(L-R) Elias Podber of Grady, Zachary Hall of Westlake and Bram Mansbach of Grady, all seniors, lead the pack in the 1,600 meters at the Panther All-Comers Meet, held February 22. It was one of the last meets held prior to the suspension of the school year due to COVID-19. Mansbach (4:38.45) edged Hall (4:38.49) for first while Westlake junior Taylor Battle placed third and Podber took fourth .
Photo: Delbert Ellerton
Photo: Delbert Ellerton

Track and Field Blog: Season remains in limbo due to COVID-19

As the coronavirus (COVID-19) has swept across the country, the sports world – from the pros to youth leagues – has been collateral damage. 

Here in Georgia, all spring sports have been suspended until further notice, as school systems statewide are shutter through at least March 31. With spring break in many districts coming the following week, it makes sense that it will be mid to late April before schools and extracurricular activities begin again. 

“The death toll keeps rising. Cities and states are shutting down. I think this is going to get worse before it gets better,” said Grady head coach Delbert Ellerton. “We put people at risk if we go back too soon.” 

Ellerton said every coach he has spoken with gave their athletes workouts to do while the season is suspended, but no one is holding workouts.

“No one is doing anything,” Ellerton said. “No meetings. Nothing.”

We spoke with Parkview head coach Matt Henson, who is head of the Georgia Track and Field/Cross Country Association (GATFXCCA) to get his thoughts:

-- What were your first thoughts when you received word that schools and all school activities would be shut down for at least the next two weeks, and perhaps beyond?

I was at a Parkview baseball game and had been preparing for our huge relay meet that was supposed to be on Friday the 13th/Saturday the 14th and was actually a little shocked because all indicators were that we (Parkview/GHSA schools, etc.) would be operating status quo, and that changed in a matter of a few hours. Many of my coaching friends/colleagues across the state thought we would get through that weekend, and then have a brief hiatus like the other places around the country.

I am still stunned at the trickle-down effect this is having on schools/sports/activities at ALL levels--the cancellation of regular classes for the rest of the college semester at many colleges, the cancellation of the NCAA basketball tourneys, the NBA and ultimately all the collegiate spring seasons/championships. 

-- What is your advice to the state's track and field athletes who are now at home, waiting to hear what will happen next?

Our track & field staff at Parkview handled it like we do spring break every year--we do not hold official practice but send a recommended workout schedule for all event groups--if they cannot do the workout on the prescribed day, simply do it the next day and alter as needed. I know many others across the state are doing the same thing and we've seen a lot of workout suggestions on Twitter from all levels--high school to college.

My recommendation for everyone is the same that we are telling our athletes--continue being active to maintain the physical training/level they have reached, treat it like school work or a job--it is your responsibility to continue being prepared when (or if) we return. If we are able to get back to normal in early April, that still gives everyone 3-4 weeks for a training cycle to prepare for region/sectionals/state. I have told some of our more experienced athletes it is not much different than if they were coming off an injury--be as ready as you can be and leave the rest to us once we get back on the track/runway/circle.

-- What is your advice for seniors who are being recruited but still needed to post good times/distances this season in order to secure their scholarship.

My advice for seniors still involved in the recruiting process is stay in touch with who is recruiting you--they already are interested and are willing to spend time communicating with you, and to not worry as much about "good times/marks" this season. Typically a college is recruiting an athlete based on the average of historic marks, not a PR. So a kid who runs 1:54 once in the men's 800m but has averaged 1:57 in his most competitive year or a female long jumper whose PR is 19 feet + but consistently hits 18 and a half feet are being recruited on those averages anyway, not their best mark ever. My friends who are head or assistant college coaches around the country are in the same boat we are at the high school level so I guess typical "standards/guidelines" for scholarship money might have to be a little more flexible than they typically are anyway.

-- The worst case scenario is that the season is cancelled. In your opinion, what would be the best case scenario?

The best case scenario is we as a country realize the positive impact of the safety measures taken to prevent the virus from being spread. Everyone returns to school and practice in early April so all in Georgia and nationwide have the opportunity to experience prom, finishing seasons, making the playoffs/maybe a playoff run for state championships in their respective sports and ultimately graduate with their classes. This would validate the body of work everyone--athletes and coaches--put in for the first half of the season and give some closure to all. 

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