How DeKalb County athletes stay fit during season's suspension

Collinsville's Chase Garrett, left, and Dalton Hughes play wiffle ball during the statewide break from high school athletics due to coronavirus (COVID-19) concerns.

FORT PAYNE — Just because the spring sports season has halted, doesn’t mean the athletes have stopped training for its possible return.

As the coronavirus (COVID-19) spread forced the season to be put on hold, athletes from around DeKalb County continue working to stay fit and game-ready for if and when the season resumes.

“It’s been difficult to keep preparing without being around my coaches and all of my teammates,” said Kenadie Lee, a junior softball player at Sylvania. “It’s hard to keep it in the back of my mind that we could resume play at any moment, and I have to be ready to go.”

With school facilities being off limits during the mandatory break, Lee is among the athletes in the county continuing training with hopes for the sports season’s resumption. Lee said she’s continued all of her softball work from home, from simple tee drills to working on her weaknesses at the plate.

In response to the rapid spread of the coronavirus, Governor Kay Ivey elected to suspend all athletic events — including contests, practices, weightlifting and conditioning — across the state, which began March 18. The suspension was slated for a 2 1/2-week period and no further decision has been made as to whether or not there will be an extension applied to the original April 6 date for activities to resume.

A statement from the AHSAA said at the end of the 2 1/2-week school-closure period, the organization will re-evaluate health conditions and determine the status of spring sports championship play.

The AHSAA said it will continue working with the Alabama Department of Public Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the AHSAA Medical Advisory Board to analyze the status of the progressing health situation.

“Initially, I was shocked because I didn’t realize how big of an effect it was going to have on school and athletics,” Fort Payne junior Madi Wallace said.

Wallace had a strong start to the outdoor track and field season, capturing first-place finishes in the 100-meter hurdles and the 300-meter hurdles at the Cullman Invitational.

Just as she was constructing another brilliant solo campaign, Wallace and other athletes around the state were forced to halt competition.

“It has definitely made me want to work harder while off, so when we do go back I won’t have lost anything,” Wallace said.

Despite the stoppage, Wallace said she’s managed to continue her regular workouts. She said she’s also been doing solo running, occasionally being joined by her sister, her mom and a friend. 

Jake Peppers, a senior baseball player at Geraldine, said the absence of routine training at his high school has made it challenging to stay sharp for a possible season return.

He said the break has required everyone on his team to take on an additional amount of personal responsibility when it comes to staying fit. 

“We are just continuing to throw every day to keep our arms in shape,” Peppers said. “Hitting-wise, we are trying to get as much in as we can with tees at home.”

As a pitcher, Peppers said he uses weighted balls to increase his arm speed and strength. He started the method two years ago and said throwing overweight and underweight balls has helped him raise the velocity on his pitches.

Additionally, Peppers and his friends are among the athletes finding ways to recreate together, while practicing social distancing. 

“We have gotten a little creative you could say,” Peppers said. “Baseball is all about having fun, so we have been getting together to play wiffle ball.”

Like Peppers, Collinsville junior Dalton Hughes has been playing wiffle ball with friends during the stoppage. He said some of his baseball teammates are always ready to go hit and throw with him, along with his dad, sister and girlfriend.

Hughes said he’s continued hitting off a tee, along with mound sessions to keep his pitching approach sharpened.

“I am able to do all of my training at home,” Hughes said. “I have a tee and net that I can hit into. I have a mound that we’ve built that I pitch off of, and I either throw into the net or with my dad.”

Kelly Nelson, a senior at Cornerstone Christian Academy, was managing a back injury that forced her to stop practicing for the track and field season before the mandatory break began.

Nelson said she was in disbelief about the news of schools closing due to growing concerns about the coronavirus pandemic.

“I love school and sports, and I love the friendships made through them,” she said. “I sure am missing it.”

With her back injury keeping her from physically practicing, Nelson said she’s continued learning techniques from videos. She said that although almost all of her physical activity has been disrupted, eating healthy and walking has helped keep her mind right. 

“I’ve loved getting to spend a lot more time hanging with my family at home, but I sure do miss my friends and family at school,” Nelson said. “I sure am hoping things go back to normal soon, but if not, I know God is sovereign.”

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