DeKalb schools plan return for summer workouts

The Fort Payne varsity football team takes the field prior to kickoff of a regular-season game last season.

FORT PAYNE — The journey back to high school athletics begins Monday.

As schools are cleared to open and the Alabama High School Athletic Association allows teams to begin summer workouts during the COVID-19 pandemic, school administrators, coaches and support staff from across DeKalb County will have to follow Alabama Department of Public Health guidelines to ensure training is conducted safely.

“On top of what the state is requiring, our school system has done an outstanding job of coming up with our own set of guidelines to ensure the health and safety of our players and coaches,” Fort Payne baseball coach Eric Varnadore said. “We have great administrative leadership at Fort Payne, and they have gone above and beyond to make sure the facilities, training rooms, etc., are all cleaned and ready to go when the guys get back.”

During a Wednesday news conference, AHSAA Executive Director Steve Savarese said three keys to Monday’s reopening included: maintaining physical distancing at all times (6-foot circumference around every child); sanitizing facilities and equipment frequently; and wearing face coverings.

Fort Payne head football coach Chris Elmore said the program had a plan in place to have groups of nine or fewer players come to the workout facility, but altered the plan to allow more athletes on campus at one time following Gov. Kay Ivey’s amendments to COVID-19 restrictions. 

“We will still keep the players as socially distant as possible while they are working out or running,” Elmore said. “We will keep our locker room closed for a few more weeks to limit the time that they are in close proximity to each other. Our players will come dressed for workouts and then leave the facility immediately when their workouts are over. We think this will limit the amount of exposure between athletes while they are here.”

Collinsville’s first-year head football coach Daniel Garrett was hired amid Alabama’s original statewide stay-at-home order, being thrusted into a most unusual offseason. During the pandemic, Garrett has remained connected with players and coaching staff through video conferencing and texting.

Garrett and his staff have provided workouts for players to perform from home. The coach said the players have responded well to assignments and prepared themselves for the upcoming season as best as they could from home.

 “I am very thankful for technology that has allowed us to stay connected during this quarantine,” Garrett said. “I, myself, have been working hard to form relationships with these young men without actually being around them. Technology has been clutch in allowing me to do that. I am also thankful for a great coaching staff that has worked hard to navigate these technology resources so that we could use them to monitor and stay connected with our players. 

“Make no mistake, no matter the circumstances, we are striving to improve every single day. That is the expectation and I am happy to say our players and coaches have been meeting that expectation.”

Garrett said the football program’s return to summer workouts is formulated off of the most recent information released from the AHSAA with the social distancing guidelines. 

“We have contingency plans in place for if things are loosened up more as well,” he said. “We will send home Google forms every night for the players to let us know if they are exhibiting any symptoms among other things to ensure the safety of our players while also allowing them to work hard, have fun and grow our (culture) every day.”

After a long break from athletic activities, it will be a slow return, but one that is backed by safety and optimism from those around DeKalb.

We are excited to see (players) back and can’t wait to get back to preparation for the 2020 season,” Elmore said.

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