• A'Don Allen

“Uncertain is the New Normal”

Getting Back to The Expected

The word Normal is defined as “conforming to a standard; usual, typical, or expected”. Based on that definition, the last year and a half has been anything but normal, in the world of education and high school athletics. In March of 2020, the world of education came to a screeching halt due to the Coronavirus Pandemic. Classes went to virtual, athletics went away, and uncertainty became the new “normal”. For educators, the hardest part was not being around the students. “I got into education because I like working with students and watching them grow into young adults”, said Elmira High School Principal Christopher Reger. “That was not the case last year. We had many virtual students; we were closed, then open. It was just a year of inconsistency when it comes to seeing students.”

While school was indeed inconsistent, athletics were non-existent for the most part. In September, there were no Friday Night Lights. There was no homecomings, there was nothing while the state and country spent evenings watching numbers. The numbers of cases and whether they were going up or down is what people began to tune in to. Hope, despair, and downright frustration kicked in. In February, the tides shifted enough to allow sports. But there would be restrictions galore. And all three sports seasons were crammed into 5 months, and in opposite order. The winter season went from February to March. The fall season went from March to April and the spring season went from May to June. Elmira Express Boys Basketball Coach Ryan Johnson, while happy for the opportunity, spoke about the difficulties of the crammed season. “The most difficult part of last season for me was the amount of time I got to spend with boys in the gym, on the bus, and with our team get togethers. I cherish the memories and bonds I develop with my players most of all, so it was tough that we had limited time and couldn’t do the things we normally do during the course of a season to make these young men feel worthy and appreciated.” Johnson also added, “I love to put my guys on a pedestal and show case and honor their talents on and off the court. I felt like we were unable to do that to the fullest last year because of the “abbreviated “season unfortunately. However, I am very proud of the way the boys persevered and represented their school, our program, their families, and our community. They worked their tails off for me from day one and until it was over, and I will be forever grateful and hold that team in a special place in my heart. But for most, the odd sports season was better than no season at all! “ Tom Morrell, Elmira City School District Athletic Director also spoke of the challenges of the shortened season, “From starting the winter season with all athletes wearing masks, COVID screenings for all athletes and spectators, and COVID testing for athletes, to finishing the spring season running normal in June. We began the sports season with limited spectators at all levels and finished allowing spectators for all athletes, without a limit. The good news was it was great to see the Express student-athletes, back in the pool, or on the court, after almost a full year with no activities.”

Summers are big for high school athletics. It’s the time to develop your student-athletes. It’s time to work on the skills and do teaching that is often limited during your regular season. One of the most difficult outcomes of the pandemic school year was lack of summer workouts. Coaches count on that time, not only for skill development, but also for team bonding. Building that cohesion and camaraderie that is necessary to build a team. Ryan Johnson, Elmira Express High School Basketball Coach, couldn’t have been more excited to be back at the summer workouts with his players. “Off season was great for the kids! The ability to get out and compete again, work on their skills, be a part of a team, and develop those relationships is a big part of the offseason. Many of our former players always talk about the team camps and leagues we do in the offseason and they loved those the most…traveling together, overnight camps, and laughing together are important characteristics of building a team and a program” Said Johnson. “We also do a lot of local leagues, like CCC men’s adult league and YWCA Brand Park men’s adult league; I believe it takes a community to raise these young men. Many former players, college players, and fans of Elmira basketball play in these local leagues and help our players grow not only on the court but off the court too. It was good for everyone involved! The word “TOGETHER” has always been our team motto since day one because it takes many people to get these young kids on the right track and heading in the right direction.”

So what’s next? Are we going to finally get a truly “Normal”, school and sports year? As the fall sports season has begun, Tom Morrell is excited but cautious, “I would say that it’s a very exciting time, for all student athletes. Knowing that not all sports will be run as normal, all athletes are excited to get back playing the sports they love. We have over 450 student athletes signed up to compete this fall and you can feel the energy and excitement just watching their first practice. I feel like there has been a huge sigh of relief and teams are ready to start competing for championships again.” In theory that sounds wonderful. In reality, words like Delta Variant….keep a sliver of doubt that “normal” may not be a permanent reality. But Morrell has faith that the government agencies and school districts are doing their due diligence to make sure a usual, typical or expected school/sports year will occur. “The uptick in cases in our country, especially the Delta Variant, is definitely one for concern.”, said Morrell. “Over the past 18 months, we have learned a lot about how to slow the spread or help control the amount of cases in our area. As long as we all do our part, especially in our community, I do not think we will get to a full shut down. I am optimistic, that as long as we follow the guidelines given to us by the NYSDOH or CCDOH, we will be able to have a full season(s). Extracurricular activities are critical for our student social-emotional health, and more specifically, athletics is important for our student athletes overall health, so we will do whatever we can to help keeping everyone actively participating in our programs.”

Principal Reger echoes the sentiment of all when asked what he is looking forward to the most in a “normal” school year…..”That is easy for me. I cannot wait to see students regularly.”

Let’s hope that is the case!

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