Spokane Shock coach Billy Back ended practice Saturday with a message his three dozen players feared – but widely expected – to hear.
Back, who took over the reborn Indoor Football League franchise in November, halted team activities amid the worldwide coronovirus pandemic, a week before the Shock’s season opener.
After a two-week minicamp and preseason cuts, the team is in limbo, hoping to resume play sooner than later. The IFL mandated the league’s suspension in an effort to curb the spread of the growing disease that’s infected over 1,000 in the state of Washington.
“We have to sit and wait,” said Back, who moved his family from Greensboro, North Carolina, where he previously coached the Carolina Cobras. “We had a great camp, and we have a ton of talent. We came here to do a job, and we’re going to do it, whatever it’s going to take. We have to wait and do it.”
But getting an adequate individual workout will be a chore for players who relocated to Spokane earlier this month, many of whom had college success in the SEC, Big 12, Big 10 and Pac-12, such as former Alabama quarterback Blake Simms and Tennessee receiver Von Pearson.
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee recently invoked bans of large groups – football practice falls into this category – resulting in the temporary closure of restaurants, entertainment venues and gyms.
This has forced players such as defensive end Nick Woodman to get creative from his Ruby River Hotel residence, where the Shock house their athletes during the season.
“A lot of body-weight exercises, and the hotel has a bike I’ve been using,” said Woodman, a Utica, New York, native. “Have to stay active and going, can’t sit around and get fat.”
The Shock, a former member of the Arena Football League that folded earlier this year, were slated to open their season Sunday in North Dakota against the Bismarck Bucks. Their home schedule was set to begin next Thursday against the San Diego Strike Force.
The team, which won two af2 championships and an AFL title before changing its brand to the Spokane Empire and ceasing operations in 2017 under former ownership, unveiled its new blue and orange field turf at Spokane Arena last week on social media.
A Shock Fan Fest was scheduled March 12 for the public to see the field and meet and greet players, and for season-ticket holders to pick their seats, but it was canceled earlier that day as a preventive coronavirus measure.
“The attitude of the team is a little sad and I really feel for the fans, but I’m not going to break my mental focus,” Woodman said. “I am ready to go, very anxious and excited.”
Shock owner Sam Adams is carving out the positives in a time of uncertainty.
A former All-Pro NFL defensive tackle who has been involved in indoor football ownership for more than a decade, Adams believes the downtime will give his team and office more time to prepare.
“It gives us time to look at what we’re doing, and make it better,” Adams said. “We’ll be ready when this goes away, when we get back to normalcy. The Spokane Shock will be there, and we’ll give the city something to be proud of.”
The Shock website recently took down its games scheduled for March and April, and lists its first game tentatively scheduled for May 2, a road date with the Arizona Rattlers.
Adams said if the season starts May 2, the games that were postponed will be added to the back end of the schedule and the IFL championship will take place in August, much like dates of the Shock’s former championships runs in the AFL.
The return of the XFL this winter resulted in an early season cancellation because of the coronavirus. The Western Hockey League’s Spokane Chiefs, who also play at the Spokane Arena, had their regular season end prematurely, but the WHL hasn’t canceled playoffs yet.
The NHL, NBA and MLB have also postponed their seasons, and the NCAA Tournament was canceled last week. The NCAA and high school sports associations around the country have also shelved spring sports.
“We are going to play this year,” Adams said.
Shock players are paid on a per-game basis, but the franchise pays housing and assists with other expenses.
Adams said players are looking for employment in the area during the downtime. Some have gone home to be around their families until further notice.
Most chose to stay.
“It’d be one thing if this happened at the beginning of camp,” Woodman said. “But we’re a couple weeks into it, and we’ve developed friendships.”
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