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Area athletes in the same spot as pandemic precautions alter summer schedules

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Every area school district has gone back to summer workouts for high school athletes. Some are quite a bit farther along than others, but everyone is in the same boat.

Thanks to the coronavirus pandemic, the summer of 2020 is far from normal.

Right now, high school athletes across the First Coast have returned to campus to begin voluntary work outs following a lengthy list of safety guidelines.

All 11 counties in the News4Jax Florida coverage area have returned to some form of workouts. Flagler County was the area’s final county to resume, with Flagler Palm Coast and Matanzas getting the go-ahead to begin workouts last Monday.

Bradford, Nassau and Union counties were the first three school districts in the area to begin working out on June 1. And it’s been an adjustment for programs there, even with more than three weeks of workouts in the books.

Union County athletic director Ronny Pruitt said his school has done well and settled into a rhythm during an unusual summer.

“It’s going good. We’re checking temperatures, distancing, doing the whole nine yards,” Pruitt said. “Probably averaging 60 kids [per day]. Minimal outside stuff. Trying to take the heat into consideration. Coach [Andrew] Thomas did a good job on all the computer [meetings] and stuff before we started.”

Bradford coach Brian Tomlinson said that it’s been slow going for programs, but the Tornadoes are making the best of it. What’s in store in the coming months, he said, is unsettling for everyone though.

“We make them fill out a questionnaire every morning and we supply them with bottled water or Gatorade. Three months ago, I think we all thought this will be over by the summer and we’d be ready to go and it’s still not. It is very scary,” said Bradford football coach Brian Tomlinson.

West Nassau coach Rickey Armstrong said it’s been a challenge for every program, even one like the Warriors. They’ve been going since June 1, but it’s not been a normal segue into summer.

“We’ve thrown a little but, but we haven’t done a whole lot. We’re just trying to get everybody together, get everybody on the same page. It’s just hard to get everybody there at the same time,” Armstrong said. “Usually you say practice is this time and everybody’s there. We’re still [physically] separating and only a certain amount of kids can be in the weight room at a time.”

Duval allowed athletes to return to campus on June 15 for outdoor conditioning. Phase 2 is set to begin on June 29 and is expected to include weightlifting. But balls are still not expected to be allowed to be used.

In Clay County, athletes returned for workouts on June 22 and this week, high school sports there moved into Phase 2, which allowed athletes to transition from outdoor-only workouts to indoor workouts.

Oakleaf football coach Frank Garis says he thinks his players have handled the safety adjustments well.

“They have understood that when we get here, we hand sanitizer scrub-in, we hand sanitizer scrub out. Keep your distance when we are on to and from the field. Keep your distance when we are around each other.”

In St John’s County, athletes returned to campus on June 15 to begin working out. Teams have been permitted to include balls during their workouts.

Even with workouts resuming there are still looming questions about high school sports like Will fall practice start on time on July 27? Are games this fall going to be played in front of fans or at all? These are questions that will need to be answered over the next few weeks.


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