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Scott Shankel wants to be teaching his strength and conditioning class. He wants to be preparing his Reed City Coyotes for the upcoming football season, putting together workouts that increase his players’  stamina, strength and speed.


However, this year, the second-year coach at Reed City is stuck in his home along with coaches all over the state due to the coronavirus pandemic. The pandemic has led to the cancellation of the remainder of the school year and will delay the start of organized team summer workouts.  


Now Shankel is still putting together workouts, just not in the same way. Instead of leading his team in the weight room, he’s sending workouts to his team in text messages.


“We’re in the same boat as everyone else, where we can’t have face to face contact,” Shankel said. “Some of them have weight equipment and I know they’re lifting, but (I’m) just trying to send workouts and stay in contact with them.”


Coaching a team that finished 6-4 a season ago, Shankel is eager to get back on the field with his team. Normally, he’d be preparing for various individual and team camps that his program puts on in the summer. Instead, he’s left crossing his fingers that he’ll be able to coach his team in the fall.


He’s harboring optimism for the upcoming season. Shankel noted that developing incoming talent will be important, but the simplicity of his team’s “Wing-T” offense makes it easier to install with the team early in the season.


Above all, Shankel wants to make sure his players are faring well. While football is important, the health and well-being of the players is higher on his priority list.


“I want to make sure they’re staying healthy and safe,” Shankel said. “All the mental, physical and social stuff going on in their world right now, I’m just checking and trying to reach out to them every so often.”


When the Stay-at-Home order was first set in stone, Big Rapids coach Mike Selzer called each of the players on his team to assess their workout situation. He wanted to know who had weights and who didn’t, making sure each kid received a weekly workout plan that catered to what they had at home.


“We post two workouts every Sunday that get them through each week,” Selzer said. “One workout is for the kids that have weights, and the other is for the kids that do not.”


The position coaches on Big Rapids’ staff are each responsible for keeping in touch with their specific players, while Selzer keeps track of the specific grade levels. He says that his team utilizes the Remind app to keep in touch weekly, sharing workouts and simply keeping in touch.


Like Shankel, Selzer is optimistic that there will be a season this fall. He reminds his team to prepare as normal, albeit under different circumstances. He noted MHSAA rule changes as evidence that many are preparing as though there is going to be a season.


A normal year would see the incoming freshman class indoctrinated in the Cardinal culture during the second half of the spring semester through optional lifting. Starting in April, Selzer and company allows the current eighth graders to take the bus to the high school to lift with varsity players. Now, those incoming freshmen will have to wait until at least June to get their first taste of high school football.


“We started (early freshman lifting) three years ago, and it was a huge difference,” Selzer said. “Not so much on the lifting aspect, but kind of the acclimation, where our summer freshman attendance increased by almost 200 percent.”


In Chippewa Hills, second year coach AJ Webley is utilizing the Zoom group communication app to keep his team together throughout the pandemic. Every weekday, Webley and his coaches chat with various groups. Mondays are designated for Webley to meet with the captains, the following three days are scheduled for him to meet with both the varsity and junior varsity teams, and Fridays are coaches’ meetings.


“We talk for about 30 to 45 minutes just about what’s going on in their life,” Webley said, “about how they’re handling the COVID mess.”


Webley noted that his players also keep in touch in a Facebook messenger group. The conversations, he says, go beyond the playing field. He enjoys being able to keep up with his players and keeping them motivated.


Webley also has set up two different workout situations, one for those who have weights and another for those who don’t. His message to those who don’t: Get creative.


“We just tell them, grab some stuff around the house,” he said. “Whether it’s a cinder block, or take your book bag and fill it up with stuff. Anything we can do to add some resistance to the usual body weight exercises that we have them do.”


The three coaches share an optimism for the season. Above all, they’re using this time to build relationships with their players. When summer comes and restrictions are lifted, they’ll return to the sound of weights clanging and whistles blowing.


However, until then, they’ll have to make do with the silence that comes with being quarantined from their players.

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