When you’ve been waiting for 15 months to get back on a practice field, a little snow isn’t going to stand in the way.
That was the case across the Greater Spokane League on the official first day of football practice in the makeshift “Season 1,” developed in conjunction with the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association.
The East Region was cleared to move into Phase 2 by the state last week, allowing fall contact sports to practice and compete under the governor’s “Healthy Washington-Roadmap to Recovery” plan.
Football teams have 11 calendar days to conduct the 10 practices needed in order to play games starting Feb. 27. They weren’t going to allow Monday’s winter weather to get in the way of practice, whether it was outside or in the school gym.
“We got gear checked out this morning, then went outside and practiced for a couple hours,” Mt. Spokane coach Terry Cloer said. “When I got to school around 7 this morning I could see the field, I could see lots of grass. I said, ‘Yeah, let’s do it.’ By the time we got outside and got done, we probably had 3 inches on the field.
“We got some things installed and got some kids organized. It was good.”
“So fun,” Mead coach Benji Sonnichsen said. “A little chilly, still trying to thaw out. But just to get the guys out there rolling around in the snow, see the twinkle in their eyes, it was great.”
“It was awesome,” Gonzaga Prep coach Dave McKenna said. “The kids were excited. Most showed up two hours early to help shovel. They really appreciated the opportunity to get back out there.”
It was the first time Cloer had been able to address the entire team in one place.
“When we were doing our conditioning stuff before it was all half groups, A’s and B’s like our school days are,” he said. “We’re just excited to get the whole group out there today and see what we really have, and to have the group together for the first time and who’s going to step up as leaders.”
McKenna tried to run things as close to a regular practice as possible, taking all the protocols into consideration.
“We got a lot of good work in,” he said.
Sonnichsen said there was some sliding around in the adverse conditions, but at the end, “it was still just football.”
Not everybody was able to practice outside.
“We got everything lined up with all the kids and coaches over email this morning then the administrators and my athletic director called and said we had to be inside today,” Shadle Park coach Jim Mace said.
Instead, the Highlanders were among several groups who had to make do walking through plays in the gym, following along with the safety guidelines as best as possible.
“Thankfully we’ve got a bunch of older kids that can kind of show the younger ones around and hopefully bring them up to speed,” he said.
Ferris had to practice inside as well, and veteran coach Tom Yearout had his hands full.
“It felt like a full season in one day today,” he said. “Our coaching staff went above and beyond. We got a lot done in terms of basic offense, basic defense.”
Yearout praised his athletes as well.
“You know, kids are incredibly flexible and resilient,” he said. “I think they were excited to be talking and prepping with their teammates and not talking with a computer screen.”
Being off for so long and the short practice schedule before games have the coaches concerned, but they know it’s better than the alternative.
“I worry about injuries more than anything else,” Mace said. “I know we want to get as many games in as possible, I just hope we’re doing that safely.”
Cloer said the lack of an organized summer program will hurt the players as well.
“My bigger concern is the weight room,” he said. “We probably have 75% of our kids (in a normal year) in the weight room throughout the year and then probably get up to 85% throughout the summer.”
The quick schedule makes McKenna “a little nervous” to get all his players eligible for games, but he wants everyone to stay healthy.
“I told them, ‘If you’re not feeling right, sit one out.’ We don’t want anyone to get behind, but at the same time these kids know their bodies better than anyone else, and we don’t want anyone getting sick.”
Sonnichsen’s message to his players today was succinct.
“It’s all about our seniors,” he said. “The guys that have been with this program for four years, and the new ones we’ve picked up. It’s all about them this season.”
The GSL is slated to start its football season on Feb. 27, with a full slate of games in the recently realigned league.
With last year’s classification changes, and the adjustments the league made for COVID protocols, the GSL comprises three 4A, five 3A teams and eight 2A teams for football.
Each team has seven games scheduled. Each of the 2A schools will play the other seven once, and the 4A/3A schools will do the same. At this time, there is no “culminating event” scheduled for football.