For the first time in nearly seven months to the day, La Cañada High School student-athletes greeted their coaches in person and trained with their fellow teammates on Monday.
Administrators and coaches’ detailed plan of reopening the stadium and facilities for outdoor practices in accordance to the county Department of Public Health’s Reopening Protocol for Youth Sports Leagues was approved by the La Cañada Unified School District Governing Board during a virtual meeting on Sept. 29, and LCHS Principal Jim Cartnal said they “had a really great rollout.”
“First and foremost, it was great to see coaches and students we’ve missed for months,” Cartnal said over the phone on Tuesday. “We closed on March 13 [due to COVID-19] and today is Oct. 13. It’s almost kind of synchronicity to being away when we are back almost to the day.”
The feeling was mutual from coaches and students.
“I’m really excited. I missed everybody,” said junior Shaina Clorefeine, a kicker on the varsity football team. “It was really fun. I had not seen everyone in a long time.”
“I’ve been looking forward to this day for so many months,” said boys’ and girls’ volleyball coach Laura Browder. “I was just happy to see their faces and get a chance to sweat, work out and bond. Oh man, it was so cute because all the girls were so excited to see each other. The staff, [assistant coach] Carlos [Medina] and I joked at the beginning that we’re all so out of shape, so we thought it would be a tough day.”
The school developed a schedule that staggered teams and 6th-period sports classes consisting of varsity athletes in one-hour sessions for training, conditioning and skill-building activities from 2:30-5:30 p.m. Students and coaches are required to go through one of five health screening stations — which are also equipped with personal protective equipment such as sanitizer and disinfectant wipes — for a temperature check before participation.
“We’re excited,” said LCHS football coach Jason Sarceda. “We’ve been setting up a system since June to anticipate doing it like this. It’s a different vibe, but it’s coming together really nice and the boys felt really positive.”
About 30 teachers and support staff monitored an estimated 120 students throughout the three-hour period, according to Cartnal, who was encouraged by what he saw on Monday.
“I left [Monday] buoyed by two deep impressions, first of which was the joy of returning to some facet of what was normal in the place before the pandemic hit. That was awesome,” Cartnal said. “Second was the seriousness with which coaches and students took to fidelities and the check-in process.”
Senior Cole Hammes walked on campus for the first time in seven months and said he felt “safe” with the protocols set by the school, “especially since we’re outside and have to wear a mask when not exercising [rigorously].”
Head baseball coach Matt Whisenant also walked away impressed by the procedures in place.
“I think the administration and staff here have done a tremendous job to make sure all safety precautions are taken and we’re following the guidelines in order to get back to normalcy,” Whisenant said. “Otherwise, we’re just going to continue to not get where we want to, which is to get on the field and play baseball.”
Normalcy is the word most used by coaches and personnel to describe the feeling of returning to campus. Though sessions are limited to an hour, Browder said those 60 minutes can go a long way for players and coaches, emotionally and physically.
“I think we’ve undervalued how beneficial sports are for social, physical and emotional well-being,” she said. “I think the focus for this season isn’t about winning CIF or state. That is always great, but it’s about how we can come together and get the best out of each other. Sports provide that opportunity to invest in people. Some of the athletes are doing great and some of them aren’t.
“The reality of COVID is that when trapped at home for so long, there are a lot of unsettled emotions and fears. We’re just creating a safe space and outlet for kids to be able to remember who they are and give them a sense of self.”
Only students on varsity teams have been given the green light to practice, but coaches are hopeful that it will open up to the remaining athletes in the near future. The facilities are open only for students and staff at the moment.
Cartnal said that the day would have been perfect if it wasn’t for a minor “hiccup” in the pool, which hasn’t been used for months.
“Coaches called us because we had a lot of bees,” he said. “We have the plastic lane markers and the bees were gathering around the red ones in the two center lanes. We just yanked those out and the boys were in the pool within five minutes. No bees or Spartans were harmed.”