By Sports editor Brian Hoffman

High School basketball and cheerleading teams are coping with coronavirus precautions this week, and next week other winter sports will begin practice. Wrestling, swimming and indoor track teams are scheduled to begin Monday, December 14.

Rules dictating practice are currently under Phase 2 guidelines. Wrestling is one of the toughest sports to steer clear of the virus with constant contact in an indoor environment.

William Byrd wrestling coach Thomas Kessler (center) at a matach last season with assistants Michael Bryant (left) and Ron Long. (photos by Brian Hoffman)

“We can technically go Monday, but we have to be in certain VDH Health Metrics,” said Byrd wrestling coach Thomas Kessler. “In order for us to practice we must be under 200 per 100,000 cases.  Currently Roanoke County’s 14 day average is 603.  We can hold practices where kids can be 10 feet apart.  For wrestling,  that means we cannot get much done.”

The Terriers have been weightlifting and conditioning in the off-season and will continue to do so until actual practice can begin. Some members of the Big Orange have been competing with wrestling clubs that aren’t associated with school.

“The off season has been pretty tough to get anything accomplished,” said Kessler. “Luckily we have some dedicated guys who have found work at various wrestling clubs. They have the freedom of not having the same restrictions as we do in the county since they do not have to follow VHSL guidelines.”

At school, things are much different.

“The restrictions that are put in place when we can actually have practice are pretty tough,” said Kessler. “I don’t have the room to follow all of the guidelines so I am going to have to have a practice before school and after school to accommodate the new guidelines. The kids are only able to work with one partner per practice and they must stay in ‘pods’ for two weeks at a time.”

The Terriers have struggled to put a schedule together. In normal years Byrd would compete in several weekend tournaments, including the annual Big Orange Classic in Vinton, but those are off.

“Putting a schedule together is very challenging and luckily my AD, Jason Taylor, is responsible for that,” said Kessler. “When we don’t know if we will be able to participate in an event its tough committing or its tough trying to invite a team to come wrestle. We are limited to Duals and Tri’s this year.  There will be no tournaments other than the Region and State tournament.”

While the season is in flux, the kids keep coming to work out.

“I give my kids a lot of credit,” said Kessler. “A lot of them have shown up since September 28th, when Roanoke County said we could work out, and busted their butts not knowing if they would be able to have a season. We are still working out, lifting and running, in hopes that something will change and we will be able to have a season for our seniors who have put in a lot of work to our program.”

Swimming is a little easier to social distance as there is no contact between participants during practice and events. Still, Byrd coach Krista Martin has rules to follow.

“James(assistant coach Martin) and I are ready to be creative in ways that we spread swimmers out in the pool for practice,” said Krista. “Swimmers will show up ready to get in the water versus as opposed to using the locker rooms. We will wear masks when not in the water and follow all guidelines set forth by VHSL and Roanoke County. We are grateful that Lancerlot will have us and we are confident we can hold swim practice safely.”

Like the wrestlers, the swimming teams won’t have all the big meets they’re used to.

“We had a coaches meeting in October with all the area swim coaches and we set our meet schedule,” said Martin. “We do not have quite as many meets this year since the season is a little bit shorter. The VHSL has not given permission to have sanctioned events right now, like invitationals where we have several teams from across the valley. However, if we are given the go ahead for competition then we are allowed to host something like a tri-meet where three teams would compete against one another.”

The Byrd swim team has been very close and the pandemic has been tough to deal with.

Byrd swim coach Krista Martin shouts encouragement at a past meet.

“I have missed these kids and I know they have missed each other,” said Martin. “Our team captain this year is senior Elizabeth Recktenwald.  Elizabeth is a great motivator and I can’t think of anyone else better suited to keep our team’s spirits up during a pandemic.

“I don’t know what this season is going to bring, but I do know that I can’t wait to see my team on the 14th.  I’m so grateful that we have the opportunity to get back in the water to train and share our passion for the sport of swimming.”

On the track, Byrd coach James Pannell is hoping for a mild winter.

“A challenge will be if it is too cold outside as we will not be able to practice inside because of COVID protocols and school rules,” said Pannell. “Another set of challenges for my particular sport will be getting in touch with athletes so they can do those workouts when we have to cancel because of weather, but since I have such a hard working group I am sure they will find a way to get their required work in for the day.”

James isn’t expecting to have as many participants as usual.

Olivia Hurd will need to dress warmer than this for “Polar Bear” track meets this season.

“The biggest challenge with my indoor track and field team is going to be the size of my team,” he said. “We normally have a large group of athletes that participate for indoor track to help them get ready for their upcoming seasons.  I think the numbers will be down with indoor track being the first sport to start the year along with basketball and swimming, but I think we will still have a very good turnout. The challenge with having a big team is having somewhere where they can all practice and thankfully we have a great facility that we can practice and spilt the team up into groups to help us socially distance and still get a good workout in.”

Like wrestling and swimming, the track team won’t have the big meets they are accustomed to.

“As of right now I do not have a schedule put together because COVID has shut down many of the facilities where we practice and the only place currently open is the brand new Virginia Beach fieldhouse,” said Pannell. “With the VHSL not sanctioning any meets to start the year they are only doing meets where runners can run unattached and they cannot run under their high school.  You will see many facilities in North Carolina open up and allow athletes to run in their indoor facility with no affiliation to anyone. I believe high schools will try to have polar bear track meets outside with indoor track distances, but with the Virginia winter season it can be very cold and almost difficult to compete in.”

more recommended stories