High School Football: Practice begins across Miami Valley

Northwestern High School senior lineman Joe Emory never thought he’d see the first day of football practice this fall, especially after the COVID-19 pandemic cancelled the entire spring sports season.

“It feels great,” Emory said. “It’s rare that we’re getting to play, so you better make the best of it.”

Saturday marked the first day of practice for fall sports, including football, golf, cross country, soccer, girls tennis, field hockey and volleyball. It was the first day of official practice for prep sports since the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the winter sports during postseason tournaments and later cancelled the entire spring sports season.

The Ohio High School Athletic Association announced on Friday practices were permitted to be held as scheduled.

Northwestern held its first practice in Springfield on Saturday morning. The Warriors went 6-4 last season.

“It’s nice to see the kids out here flying around,” said Warriors coach Shane Carter. “It’s an awkward time and I think a lot of parents scheduled vacation and we’ve still got kids playing in baseball tournaments, so our numbers are low today, but I’m optimistic with how we’ve been this summer, hopefully we’ll have about 40.”

The practice included multiple bottles of hand sanitizer and footballs being disinfected between drills. The Warriors are also using two locker rooms in order to properly distance the players, Carter said.

“We’re trying to use the amenities we have here to keep people safe,” Carter said. “I know the coaches are excited to be out here and the players are equally excited. We’re just ready to start playing some football.”

After missing track season this spring, Emory isn’t bothered by the measures being in put in place for football season.

“It’s not like normal anymore,” Emory said. “We have to stay safe. It’s way better than not having a season, so I’ll take it.”

The Fairmont football team held practice on Saturday morning, following all protocols put in place from the Ohio High School Football Coaches Association, the OHSAA and local and state health officials, said Firebirds coach Dave Miller.

“We’ve had a great summer, really uneventful, which is good,” Miller said. “We progressed through the phases we put together with the district and the health department and the governor’s office. We’re really excited because every day we’re out on the field is a good thing. These kids need it. We’re excited across the board to be able to practice.”

While golf, tennis and volleyball have been approved to compete, contact sports such as football, soccer and field hockey, as well as cross country, are awaiting approval from Gov. Mike DeWine and the Ohio Department of Health. The OHSAA suspended scrimmages in contact sports on Tuesday.

The football regular season begins the week of Aug. 24 with most teams scheduled to play on Friday, Aug. 28.

“That’s the reward for the kids with all the hard work they’ve put in,” Miller said. “We’ve talked as a staff in that we need to be really creative on how we’re not going to practice solid for 3-4 weeks and then go play a game because that’s not going to work. We’ve also got to evaluate our kids and the scrimmages are really important for that, but we’re doing that everyday in practice. We’ve got to be a little bit more creative. The bottom line is that the kids are there. This is an ultimate good for them. The alternative is unthinkable.”

Several schools across the area, including Springfield and Shawnee, postponed the start of practice until Monday. Other schools, including Middletown, Trotwood-Madison and Dayton Public Schools, suspended all extracurricular activities due to COVID-19.

Both the Greater Western Ohio Conference and the Miami Valley League announced it would compete in conference-only competition this season.

Stebbins held a typical practice Saturday morning after being cautious for most of the summer. The entire team has only been together five times, said Indians coach Greg Bonifay.

“We were able to focus more on the little things that get taken advantage of,” he said. “It was kind of nice in a way. It’s just completely different. I don’t know what the next step is, but we’re going to get ready to play football.”

The Indians have 22 seniors who started with Bonifay four years ago. He wants nothing more than to watch those players take the field this fall.

“I feel for them and I just want them to have an opportunity to play,” Bonifay said.

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