Sports have always seemed to bring a sense of comfort and familiarity to those who enjoy them, and amid the coronavirus outbreak, the return of sports have offered a slight return to normalcy despite Covid-19 still making life across the country anything but normal.
For Bristol Eastern football head coach Anthony Julius, the return of the sport itself hasn’t been the greatest source of satisfaction, rather the opportunity for the team to be whole again thanks to the CIAC’s next phase of bringing high school sports back to Connecticut, which allowed teams to hold outdoor workouts starting in the beginning of July.
“I think the best part was just seeing the kids again,” Julius said. “I think any coach will say that the relationships you build with the kids is what's most important to you, and to be able to see them after a long absence was really good.”
The Lancers themselves shared the same sentiment once they were able to gather in small groups for team workouts, representing the next step towards a hopeful return to game action, as the CIAC plans to start the season on schedule come Sept. 11.
“The kids were excited to be out there,” Julius said. “Even though it took a little time, they were happy to see each other, and it's been great so far.”
Summer workouts can at times be some of the more grueling parts of a football season, but for Eastern, the simple chance to be back on the field as a group has been a welcomed return to a normal routine, even if that routine consists mainly of conditioning drills in the July heat.
“The kids are definitely appreciative and excited to be back,” Julius said. “They talked about how much they missed the end of school, so it's nice to be able to give them something that's familiar to them. They've been super appreciative of everything that we're doing.”
Julius could see the enthusiasm from the team in its desire to get back to work after an extended layoff that prevented the Lancers from meeting in person for months.
“These kids are young, and they catch up pretty quick,” Julius said. “Even though there was a delay to the start of our conditioning, a lot of the kids came back and picked up right where they left off, which was really nice to see. But more than anything, I was just excited to see them. Having not seen them in a long time, it was just nice to talk to them and see how things have been going. That's been the best part of all this, not necessarily the football aspect, but just being able to reconnect with the kids.”
Of course, it’s not all completely back to normal. The coaches have had to adjust to a different format of workouts due to the restrictions on group sizes and teams across the state await the next phase of the CIAC’s reopening, which will allow larger groups to work out together. For Eastern, it’s been only a minor tweak in an otherwise welcomed return towards what hopes to be as normal a season as possible.
“We've had to shrink down the sizes of what we're used to doing, so there's a couple extra sessions for the coaches to be there with the kids, but in terms of the workouts themselves, they're pretty much what we've been used to doing,” Julius said. “The only difference is that we're not in the larger group setting that we're normally in.”
Another restriction, at least for the next couple of weeks, has been the inability to use weight rooms during workouts. Everything has been kept outside, but Julius and the Lancers have done their best to replicate typical team workouts from home or other accessible and safe areas.
“We've been able to send workouts to the kids and a lot of body weight training that they can do on their own,” Julius said. “If they're not able to have access to that equipment at home, a lot of the kids have gym memberships, and a lot of them have been doing that and following the guidelines set up by the governor, and they've been doing a nice job with that.”
Many players did what they could to keep in shape when the state was almost fully shut down back in spring, but options were limited. So, while outdoor workouts have been in session for nearly a month, it’s still been a process of easing athletes back into as typical a routine as possible. Workouts are a bit behind schedule, but Julius isn’t rushing anything.
“I think the kids are definitely settling into a groove,” Julius said. “As coaches, we're trying to ease them back into shape as quickly and safely as we can. With the layoff they had, it's not smart to just put them in there and go 100 mph, so we're taking it slow and taking a safe approach and the kids are responding well.”