High school football teams are not the only ones who have had their eyes on the recent GHSA mandates and guidelines regarding summer workouts during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
As a fellow fall sport, softball is affected as well. The GHSA told its member schools they could begin having student-athletes on campus for voluntary workouts beginning June 8 with several restrictions in place. GMC Prep, one of two GHSA members in Baldwin County, waited an extra week to bring players back as summer conditioning began last Monday.
Before that, GMC Prep head softball coach Jennifer Deason kept in touch with her team through text and various messaging apps to ensure they were getting some sort of work in while waiting for the go-ahead from the GHSA and school administrators. The Lady Dogs reported for duty in person last week to get their summer training underway.
“The training staff and our athletic director did a really good job of putting a program in place that made the players’ safety the top priority,” Deason said. “The most important thing is keeping them healthy.”
One of the biggest restrictions placed on schools when it came to workouts was the number of people that could be present, but this mostly applied to schools with large football teams since the number started at 20 total players and coaches combined. GMC Prep softball this year is expecting a bigger roster than in recent seasons, but not so big that Coach Deason had to split her girls up into shifts, which is something she is thankful for.
“I really wanted to have everyone here together,” the second-year head coach said. “We have six freshmen coming in so I wanted them to feel a part of the softball family and get everybody on the same page. We were lucky in that the number limitation really didn’t affect us.”
This week marks the first that teams can use sport-specific equipment, something the Lady Dogs’ staff plans on introducing into workouts slowly. Next week is the GHSA’s annual “dead week,” which always coincides with the Fourth of July holiday. Once that is over Deason said she really plans on ramping up preparations for the 2020 softball season since it will be only about a month away at that point.
“When we come back from dead week we plan to jump in with both feet and really get after it,” she said.
This year the Lady Dogs will be looking for more of the same and a little extra from what they accomplished on the softball field in 2019. They made it all the way to the GHSA Class A-Public state championships in Columbus last year and won one game before losing two in the double-elimination tournament. GMC Prep lost one very productive senior, but welcomes back a talented group of rising seniors and underclassmen that could get the team back to the big stage.
“We have a super talented team this year,” said Deason. “From top to bottom — seniors to freshmen — we really have a lot of good, talented kids who are ready to take that one goal we have in mind, which is to come home with a state championship in October.”
While preparations are nearing a full-go, there is still a chance that the COVID-19 pandemic could worsen and affect play the way it did with baseball and other sports back in the spring. Deason hopes everything improves and no one has to see their season cut short.
“We’re hoping the season will happen as normal,” the GMC Prep head coach said. “Obviously the safety of the players, their families and fans is most important. These girls are looking for some type of normalcy, and I think getting back into the swing of things with high school sports is part of that. I think there’s a way we can participate in sports and still be cautious.”