Area coaches trying to keep it normal

Nick Blanch didn’t think he or his Poland High School girls basketball team would be in this position.

No one did, smack dab in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic.

June is the month where high school basketball players are at camps, honing skills during the offseason.

Problem is the Ohio Department of Health ordered school buildings closed through June 30. Most college camps have been canceled.

Thank goodness there’s social media and smartphones.

Blanch said he, his coaching staff and team are staying in touch with one another — keeping a family atmosphere. They’ve recruited incoming Poland eighth graders, making sure they’re involved with the group.

There are team-building activities, breaking up into small groups online with a point system — each doing things on their own toward their collective goals. The goal is for the 2020-21 team to know one another — to build on a team that advanced to the Division II Austintown District final last season.

There’s a no-contact period with coaches, although social media, calls and texts are allowed. No in-person activities with social distancing taking place.

“Everybody is stuck right now,” Blanch said. “It’s either virtual or bust right now. We’ll make the most of the situation. We’ll talk about it all season long ­- when there’s adversity, injuries, things of that sort. Right now, this is adversity. It’s a whole different situation. Nobody’s been through it. You’ve got to learn how to make the most of it. I think it’s important for our coaches to demonstrate that as well instead of sitting back and throw our hands in the air. I think we have to show them there are ways to overcome everything, make the most of the situation.”

Blanch understands the circumstances and has put things into perspective.

While it’s disappointing not to be coaching and training in preparation for next year, the scenario is bigger than basketball.

“There’s a lot of people going through things a lot worse than not having basketball practice right now,” he said. “We’re trying to have them see the positive side and give them some sort of normal. These kids are locked up in their houses for the most part. They can’t even go out and do the normal things they like to do with one another. I’ve had a lot of positive feedback from our parents, just gives their kids something to look forward to. That’s our job right now, be there for the kids. In a way, it’s good for us, too. It gives us some normal, too.”

Struthers boys basketball coach Mike Wernicki, whose team lost in last season’s Division II Boardman District final, said he’s talking to his team — making sure they’re staying up with academics and training. He asks what resources each athlete has at their homes, what they can do as far as weight training and basketball.

Some have siblings at home who can be their training partner. Wernicki said his team is trying to manage as best they can, to be the best Wildcat team heading into the 2020-21 season.

“What the guys are doing with their free time is big,” Wernicki said. “We’ve been telling our guys every day, either you’re going to come out of this ahead or behind. It’s up to you.

“We’ve made no excuse about the situation and try to embrace the situation we do have and make the most of it.”

He was hoping things would open enough during May that off-season workouts could happen in one form or another.

Not the case.

August is a no-contact period by the Ohio High School Athletic Association. Wernicki is hoping that changes, especially if teams are allowed get back together starting in July.

“I’m trying to get a referendum on a mandate that would allow this August to not be dead,” he said. “I don’t see any way that you could open it back up July 1 and say you’re dead for the month of August. These kids need to get back to some sort of normalcy and everybody does.

“I’m no doctor. It is about what they deem safe for everybody.”

Health professionals and government officials have indicate that, without a vaccine, the threat of coronavirus is still there. Blanch said because things are being opened, that doesn’t mean the virus has been eradicated.

“How much do you really want to gamble here?” Blanch said. “Do you want to be the coach who has someone in your program to get it and you’re sitting here wondering, ‘Were you part of that because you were bringing these kids together?’ There’s a lot on the coaches, too. You’ve got to make good decisions here, and we have to have administration that feels good about it as well.

“Everybody here wants what’s best for everybody, kids, the adults. This is the world of the unknown right now. It’s really scary and crazy all at the same time. Everybody wants to get in the gym. I do, too. There’s no doubt. What is the right thing to do?”

Just one of many decisions coaches have to make these days.


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