CANNONSBURG "County on three!" Grant Chaffin raised his voice to break the huddle, as he might after any other Boyd County cross country practice.
Except on Monday evening, it wasn't exactly a huddle, at least not in the traditional sense. Chaffin and the other eight Lions boys at practice had spaced themselves about six feet apart in the Boyd County High School parking lot, complying with social distancing guidelines.
No one was in the mood to complain, considering it was the first day of group physical activity allowed by the KHSAA in more than three months.
High school teams worked out together across northeastern Kentucky -- in groups of 10 athletes or fewer -- for the first time since the coronavirus dead period began on March 13.
Not much about what Ashland's football or Russell's boys soccer teams did Monday looked like what they hope to be doing in August. As "high-touch" sports, as designated by Gov. Andy Beshear, football and soccer workouts cannot include more than one player touching the same ball nor any physical contact through at least July 12, as the KHSAA guidance stands now.
So the football Tomcats focused on agility and speed training and weightlifting, getting their running in at Alumni Field and up the hill on Blazer Lane. And the soccer Red Devils did conditioning and leg work, running on the track and the bleachers at Henry R. Evans Stadium.
"Most of the time, on Day 1, we want to get them on the field and get an idea of what guys have done over the summer, and we're obviously not gonna get to do that any time soon," Russell boys soccer coach Randy Vanover said. "Our focus has just got to be to get them in the best shape we can so that when we do get to work on skill, we have time to do that."
Neither program was out in full force simultaneously on Monday, in compliance with the 10-at-a-time guidance. Ashland's football team was split into three "waves" of three "pods" of 10 players or fewer apiece, coach Tony Love said, to accommodate the about 80 Tomcats players. The first wave worked out from 9 a.m. to 10:30, the next from 10:30 to noon, and the last from 5-6:30 p.m.
Love was impressed with Ashland's showing after the unanticipated break.
"We try to get the kids back into the flow of training their bodies," he said. "Most of our kids have found ways to work out over this virus. It's impressive to see how a lot of them have come in here looking."
The soccer Red Devils had two groups of nine players working out Monday evening and planned to have two more groups of nine begin Tuesday.
"If I had all 36 of them out here, it would be tough" to keep them distanced, Vanover said.
The most significant adjustment from typical first days of practice to Monday was the beginning, said Love, Vanover and Boyd County cross country coach Becca Chaney.
Vanover stationed himself at an entrance to Henry R. Evans Stadium, pointed a temporal thermometer at the forehead of each Red Devil on his way past, and recorded his temperature. Vanover then asked each player if he'd experienced a cough, sore throat, shortness of breath, nausea, vomiting or diarrhea and logged the answer.
Each Ashland coach in charge of a "pod" of 10 or so players also took temperatures and asked about fevers, coughs, sore throats, shortness of breath and if any player had had close contact or cared for someone with COVID-19.
Boyd County's runners remained in their cars while the coaches did assessments, Chaney said. Assistant coach Tracey Crawford, an emergency room nurse at King's Daughters Medical Center, did the temperature checks and Chaney filled out the paperwork.
"The most different thing about today was probably doing all those temperature checks and the evaluations, and then wearing masks," Chaney said. "It's weird seeing all of your kids with masks on, and then having to separate. We're a close group. We usually are a little goofy and cutting up, but they're just happy to be here. You could tell they were all just excited, sitting in their cars, ready to get out."
Boyd County's cross country boys ran six to seven miles on Monday, Chaney said, and the Lady Lions girls ran five. Workouts for that sport are among the closest to normal of any because it takes place outside and has minimal shared equipment, but it wasn't totally business as usual.
"When you're running and you're striding and building up momentum, they're watching and making sure they're not stepping on each other," Chaney said. "The other thing with running, we're looking at spitting and breathing (hard), and we have a lot of body fluids in this sport. These kids are trying to do their best, especially for the first day."
More than anything, most teams were excited to be back together.
"The biggest adjustment has been not being able to see the kids," Love said. "We're around the kids, a lot of times, more than our own families, and when that's stripped and you have to try to deal with that, you reach out to them through texting, but the one-on-one contact is what you miss the most. You get to finally get back and see how their lives have been going, how they're doing personally and emotionally. I think that's all part of coaching and what you want to provide for the guys that you work with for four years."
Concurred Chaney: "It was the first time I've seen all of them take off running smiling and laughing. They love this sport and love running. I guess you have to to do it. It's the first time I've seen everyone peppy and happy coming into practice. That might be another positive out of all this."
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