By: Jay Poole
I sit here on a Sunday afternoon reflecting on what a strange year it has been in all areas of life. I thought I would give an outsider an inside look on the challenges and rewards of coaching and teaching at the high school level in a pandemic. We have all been dealt huge obstacles during this time so I am not downplaying anyone else’s struggles. Just a quick look into how hard we as teachers and coaches are doing our best to give our students the best experience during these unusual times. The perspectives will be from four points of view: teacher, coach, assistant athletic director, and parent. (Not in order of importance).
As mentioned it is a Sunday afternoon. I just finished grading last week’s class assignments and put them into Powerschools (our grading software for online report cards). Johnston County, where I teach and coach, went to a Hybrid model on Feb 1st. So, I have a group of face to face students on Monday and Tuesday, another different group of students on Thursday and Friday, and then a group that is virtual all week. I have to have a face to face lesson with the in school students, and meet with all three groups daily except Wednesday. Wednesday’s are for cleaning the school, staff development, IEP meetings, and/or PLC meetings with our teaching department. In PE we have the added responsibility to sanitize all equipment we use daily, and plan lessons where the students can still social distance from each other. Obviously some sports and activities are not going to work but we plan accordingly and adjust. Is it worth it? Absolutely! I am so impressed with all of our teachers working hard to give students the best education possible.
From a coaching perspective I am going to start on scouting our next opponent here in a few moments on this Sunday afternoon. I am the girls basketball coach at North Johnston High School and we face the 2020 defending state champions Tuesday, and the 2016 and 2018 state champions on the road Friday. Yes, we are going to prepare our players tomorrow with skills like pivoting under pressure, gapping the zones, etc. but I feel like this year more than ever my assistant (Melody Brown) and I are teaching life skills. We have 7 players on the roster and they work hard and do not make excuses. We are teaching how to be resilient, how to overcome adversity, how to never take things for granted, how to play and coach an intense game behind a mask. Coach Brown and I practice with the players on the court. Every practice and game, we screen the players, take temps, ask questions related to Covid, and mark the Covid screening sheets. We can’t load a bus until the players are screened, and upon our return from an away game the bus must be cleaned and sanitized by the coach. Is it worth it? Absolutely! The players get to have a season, they had a senior night, they are making memories and learning that life is challenging at times but we can overcome obstacles together! The parents of our team members have been so supportive and for that I am thankful! Schools across the county are doing the exact same things to give every student athlete the best experiences possible.
I am fortunate to also be the assistant athletic director at North Johnston High School. I get to see all the extra time and work it is taking for all members of the school and coaching staff to have sports this year. The amount of work on our administration and Nicole Davis, our Athletic Director, is daunting. We sell tickets in advance for basketball so we have to do a money box in advance of the game. The players are told how many tickets they get and we do a pre-sale. Games are postponed and rescheduled frequently due to contact tracing, positive tests and weather issues, so gatekeepers (teachers), clock keepers, security, announcers are changing duty dates and being rescheduled more often than ever. After games we sanitize and fog the bleachers and chairs. The people at the scorers table keep wipes and an extra ball to clean if the referee thinks we need a new ball due to sweat, etc. We have posted signs all over our venues on social distancing requirements. Administration helps us with making sure the limited crowds are spaced properly and wearing their masks. Our athletic trainer Amelia Burns has the extra workload of organizing our Covid screening sheets, stocking our sanitizing supplies, and keeping our athletes safe and compliant with Covid protocols. Our custodians have been supplying the staff and coaches with extra supplies needed as well to fight the spread of the virus. The entire school plays a role in providing much needed assistance for high school athletics to be conducted. Teamwork makes the dream work for sure!
Our booster club has stepped up and provided live streaming at our home games, something we had never done before Covid. Booster club meetings are primarily how to fundraise in these challenging times. I don’t know where we would be without their support. Our teams are using only the basics needed for their respective sports. The list goes on and on….
From a parent perspective I just say thanks. My son plays JV soccer at Clayton High and I know first hand the challenges their coaches go through to have a season. The players are out there running up and down the soccer field with masks on. The coaches have to do the same screening I do, with a mask on too like the players. Again I say, is it worth it? Absolutely! I know I will have conflicts with my coaching duties to watch every game but I am hoping to use streaming services to watch as much as possible. (A positive from the pandemic is accessibility to watch other games).
In conclusion I would just like to recommend two things for those involved with high school athletics at this time: patience and understanding.
I can assure you administrators, athletic directors, coaches and players are all working extremely hard to provide high school athletics.
I would also add patience with the media and journalists that cover high school athletics. We are about to enter a span of time where there will be five or more sports seasons going on at once! I’m sure they will be up to the challenge though!
Jay Poole is a Health and PE Teacher, Girls Basketball Coach, and Assistant Athletic Director at North Johnston High School.
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