Athletes navigate new world in face of COVID-19

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Collin Hurst

Athletic trainer Rebecca Martinez, checks head football coach Adam Ratkevich’s temperature before a practice.

Fall sports got off to a rocky start on the heels of rising COVID rates and a virtual start to the school year. 

A single positive test for COVID-19 on the varsity football team led to a 14 day quarantine which ends with one last regular-season game at home versus Cooper City High School tonight. 

The girls’ volleyball and junior varsity football teams have also had COVID case scares so far, with players having to quarantine before getting back on the field and court this past week. Athletic teams have had a prolonged struggle with COVID-19 and its protocols to reach the current fruition point.

Voluntary workouts started back on September 21 after an uncertain summer. July 6 was usually the formal date that let all of Florida’s public and private football teams start their fall camp. Since the pandemic hit, the date kept getting pushed back a week at a time. After pushing the start back from  July 13 to 20 to 27,  Broward County finally announced they weren’t starting in July. In a conference in August, they made the decision for September 21. 

Swimming, usually a fall sport, was postponed to winter. Football, cross country, and cheerleading are just some of the few sports that were allowed to play this fall. Football, usually having a spring, summer, and early fall camp to get ready for the season, had all been canceled due to COVID-19. With many restrictions needing to be placed for regular football to begin, players and coaches were out of the know when it came to starting dates and protocols. 

“The fact that we aren’t going to have a chance to compete for a state title as a top 5 football team in the state really sucks,” head football coach Adam Ratkevitch said in an interview on 560WQAM with South Florida football analyst and journalist Larry Bluestein.

Ratkevich explained to the audience how his players and coaches were greatly affected by the changes that COVID-19 has brought to not only the football team but to the entire organization.

“The guys that are hurt the most from this are the guys that are still maturing coming out of 10th or 11th grade who still haven’t had any looks from colleges. Usually, the spring is where most of those guys get recognized by colleges who are actually there for the more noticeable players. That was definitely frustrating,” Ratkevich said.

Ratkevich also added that there were Zoom calls and workouts from the school’s weight training teacher Coach Herring, and that some guys had access to full gyms while others were just doing the best they could from home.

“At the end of the day, our guys really grinded,” Ratkevich said.

The team was in helmets on the week of Oct. 12 and moved to shoulder pads later in the week. Their first game was Oct. 30 away from home against Plantation High School. After a win with a score of 55-41 over Plantation High School, they faced a cancelation against True Prep Academy (TPA) and a rescheduled game against Dillard High School.

The JV football team had a COVID-19 scare early in their conditioning period, having to shut down for 2 weeks before they could practice again. However, they returned to Western to resume practice on Oct. 26. With hopes of starting off their season on Tuesday, Nov. 10, the game was canceled due to the winds and flooding caused by Hurricane Eta a couple days earlier.

Sideline cheer has also kicked off in the fall with coach Carrie Norton. Last year, the varsity competitive cheer team lost in the regional finals, just like the football team. The Lady Wildcats are hungry as they prepare for their revenge tour for this upcoming season. Without knowing much about what the county was going to do, the coaches and members were unsure what they were heading into before day 1. The first competition of last year was on Dec. 3, but it is not yet decided when competitions will resume this year.

“We had tryouts and a meeting on Microsoft Teams. Coach Norton sent out some cheers for the team to try and learn until we see each other again,” sophomore cheerleader Carly Greco said.

 She said that the team has not been on campus yet and held tryouts at Triple Threat, a nearby gym located in Davie the coaches had access to during quarantine. 

Greco also mentioned their plans for football games, stating that they will be following COVID-19 protocols as they cheer on the Wildcats.

“We will be cheering with a mask on and staying six feet apart to social distance. We are also going to be provided with hand sanitizer at all times,” Greco said. 

Girls’ volleyball has also gotten started in the fall under the lead of coach Nancy Medlock. 

“The tryouts felt the same as they were last year. The only difference would be the precautions taken for COVID, and I also feel like there really weren’t as many people as there was the years before,” junior volleyball player Mirideza Carpio said about this year’s tryouts for the new club.

She thought that there weren’t as many people there because they didn’t have the access they usually do to reach out to all of the students that were interested at Western.

“Conditioning was completely different than the years before. Because of COVID, we weren’t allowed to go on campus for a while, so our coach decided to have us follow workouts through zoom twice a week. I felt like it doesn’t give that same bonding between the players as if we were all physically together,” Carpio said. 

Even with all of the new changes to start off the year, they still had their first game of the season.

“Our first game was a little rough. I felt that we weren’t as prepared as we probably should have been. I felt that way because of our situation with some of the girls not being able to come back because of COVID and the lack of practices due to that same issue. I could sense that some of the girls felt pressured and nervous,” Carpio mentioned.

She added that their opener was also senior night, which exacerbated the nerves of the players.

“COVID has impacted the team tremendously. We aren’t as prepared as we were compared to the past years I’ve played, and I know that has a lot to do with the lack of practices and long breaks in between due to the situation that occurred during our season,” Carpio said.