Woodland athletes will be allowed to work out on campus for the first time since mid-March, when the GHSA ban on activities is lifted Monday.
However, the only activities allowed will be conditioning drills and weightlifting exercises. That caveat has significantly limited the number of participants Wildcats athletic director John Howard is planning to have for the first week of non-mandatory workouts.
“If we had been able to use a little bit of equipment — whether it had been a wrestling mat, a cheerleading mat or a basketball with an individual goal — I think we would have had a lot more participation,” Howard said earlier this week. “Knowing all they can do is run and lift, it’s definitely going to be challenging to get all of our kids in here.”
According to Howard, football players and cheerleaders are the main groups of athletes expected to take advantage of the ability to work out this coming week. Although, in an effort to give as many kids as possible the chance to utilize the facilities, he did say there would be one workout group made up of athletes from other sports.
Overall, Howard seems pleased with the number of participants, given the restrictions put in place. He also pointed out some athletes are able to get in sport-specific work elsewhere.
“A lot of our kids are multi-sport athletes, with a lot of them playing football, so they’re going to come in with the football team,” Howard said. “A lot of our baseball kids are playing summer baseball with other programs. Basketball, they’re doing some AAU stuff.
“The only sports that are going to take advantage of this first phase on June 8 are primarily football and cheerleading. We do have a group of kids, who play sports other than those two, who we’re going to combine into a group to do some workouts and conditioning with them.”
It will be an interesting week for recently hired strength and conditioning coach Charlie Higdon. He has been tasked with putting together an initial workout plan to assess where the participants are physically.
The overall number of kids who attend and the condition they are in after a nearly three-month layoff — at least — from doing school-monitored physical activity will determine what Woodland's plan of attack looks like moving forward.
“Use this first week as an opportunity to see where they’re at,” Howard said of the initial plan. “We’ve had a lot of conversations about the weight room program since we hired coach Higdon, but we won’t really know what that will look like for the following week until we get through this first week.”
While the workouts will certainly change from week to week over the next couple of months leading into the start of fall sports, things even could look different the final few weeks of July. That's because Howard said the school's weight room would be redone in early July, along with those across the district.
Per Howard, the Bartow County Board of Education is expected to announce the winning bid during the next school board meeting, which is scheduled for June 29. His hope is that the project doesn't interfere too much with the already abbreviated time Woodland athletes have had to strength train this offseason.
Ideally, a large segment of the work would be completed during the mandatory high school athletics "dead week" that runs from June 28-July 4. But with the board meeting set for that Monday, it's unknown if the company will be able to get started that quickly on the job.
“We’re so fortunate that they’re upgrading all three high school weight rooms,” Howard said. “They’re basically redoing all three high school weight rooms. Unfortunately, it probably couldn’t come at a worse time this summer, because our kids have already missed so much time in the weight room. We’re a little unsure how much downtime we’ll have to swap out the old equipment for the new equipment.
"But again, we’re super excited about the new weight room our kids will have, hopefully, by the end of July.”
Even if the weight room is unavailable for a period of time this summer, there's a chance the GHSA will have moved into a phase allowing for use of sport-specific equipment by then, minimizing the blow. That would be much appreciated by coaches across the board who have seen their normal season prep timeline severely altered.
“At the end of the day, I just have to keep reminding them that there’s a reason these restrictions are in place,” Howard said of receiving some pushback from coaches. “It’s for the safety of the kids, the coaches and the families that are all going to be involved.
"Once I explain it to them in those terms, they’re completely onboard 100% with anything they have to do to make it a safe environment for our kids, families, coaches and staff here in the building.”
It doesn't make the job any easier for the coaches, though. Howard said they're still trying to figure out how to make it where cheer coach Kathi Shedd can hold tryouts, with the most likely options involving virtual or individual in-person auditions.
Every coach, on some level, is facing similar issues. Monday offers a glimmer of hope for all of them that things will be back to normal again someday soon.
Said Howard, “We’re excited for the opportunity for our athletes to get back on campus and in the weight room to do some conditioning, training and preparation for fall sports.”