Fully masked as the sun crept across the morning sky, students exited their air-conditioned vehicles while being met with a thermometer. They greeted the new normal with genuine smiles, cheers across the parking lot, and a sense of relief that activities and sports had finally begun.
"It was also so exciting and heartwarming. I think I needed them more than they needed XC or me as their coach," said the cross country coach, Ms. Natalie Ragsdale, about her athletes' first practice. "I have missed their smiles, laughs, and silliness. I have also missed watching them push and work hard."
Ragsdale admitted that she was nervous and anxious at first, assuring that all of her students followed the return-to-play health guidelines. Nearly 30 runners participated in the school's first practice since the extended, mandatory COVID-19 directive from all school activities issued by the Governor on March 15.
The coach was adamant that the mental perspective of returning to group workouts was just as important as the physical aspect. "My main goal was to get these kids active again. They are student-athletes. They are used to being active and social. I know how I have felt unable to practice my athletics, so I know they have had some of the same feelings. Being physically active produces serotonin in the brain, which lifts mood. We need that right now," added the coach.
A few miles down the road, and minutes later, the Bulldog football teams return to the field. The team worked on strength and conditioning for its first workout of the summer. “It was awesome to see our athletes after an extended dead period,” said head football coach, Mr. Lynn Garner. “I could tell that the kids enjoyed seeing all of us and each other. The coaches felt rejuvenated to be able to get back to work and be around the kids.”
For Assistant Coach Allan Fairbanks, today marked his first practice with his new team. “It was great to finally meet our kids and get to work doing what we love,” exclaimed the coach who will also be the assistant principal at the high school in the fall. “Everyone is just trying to find a way to get better no matter what obstacles are in the way.”
Each student wore masks for the coaches' opening remarks before grabbing a disinfected weight and taking a small first step to return to normalcy.