For the first time since March, student-athletes and high school coaches around Kansas gathered for workouts on Monday.

Monday marked the first day KSHSAA allowed summer workouts after the association canceled all spring sports amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

“We’re just excited to see the kids,” Labette County Athletic Director and football head coach Sean Price said. “I had goosebumps this morning. It’s been a long haul for all of us. We’ve all suffered in some way.” 

As part of its summer regulations, KSHSAA is mandating every school take part in a 10-day acclimation period for athletes over the first two weeks of workouts. Athletes are limited to three hours of workouts in the first five days then five hours the next five days.

“Priority number one is easing these guys back into a workout setting,” Parsons football head coach Jeff Schibi said. “A lot of these guys put some time in. But fitness centers were closed for an extended period of time over this pandemic. Not all kids have access to dumbbells and free weights. So this week is a transition week. We’re easing them into getting back into shape.” 

The acclimation is designed to ease in students that have had limited physical activity since the pandemic outbreak that canceled sports across the country.

“We’re just getting the kids back into a routine,” Price said. “The kids were excited. All the stations were packed. But we’re taking it slow. Nutrition and hydration will be a big part of our approach.

“We’re working on technique right now. That’s why we’re only going 15 minutes. We don’t want to overwhelm the kids right now. We’re excited about our numbers. We have all summer to get the kids back. Nobody plays a game next week.” 

Eli Hestand, a student-athlete at Labette County, said the rest he got since March proved valuable.

“It gave me time to rest and fix myself mentally,” Hestand said. “It was really relaxing. I had some good family time.” 

But Hestand added that he, along with his classmates, were ready to get back to work.

“I’ve been waiting for weeks for this,” Hestand said. “We need to be back. We’ve got fall athletics coming up and the summer helps keep us prepared.” 

School districts across the state need local county health department clearance to open their doors for workouts and not every district held workouts on Monday.

While protocol across schools will vary, the basic concepts of summer workouts include various stations to limit gatherings and promote social distancing. Coaches are also taking various sanitation efforts. At Labette County, athletes wiped down bars in the weight room after every session. At Parsons, coaches sprayed hand sanitizer after every station and Schibi sprayed down every bench and piece of equipment between sessions.

“We want to keep our kids healthy,” Schibi said. “When they show up, we ask them three questions about where they’ve been and if they have any symptoms. We’re taking precautionary measures to try to keep some social distance.” 

Keeping kids in set groups is also part of contract tracing guidelines encouraged by the KDHE, Kansas Recreation and Park Association and local county health departments in the case of a positive coronavirus case.

“There’s so many unknowns,” Price said. “It depends on what story you want to read. I got with the custodial staff last week and they got us some sanitizer to clean. We’re going to keep doing that because it’s the right thing to do.” 

Monday also served as the first true opportunity for first-year coaches to work with their new teams face-to-face. Schibi, who was hired as the Parsons football coach last week, took full advantage.

“I didn’t sleep a wink last night,” Schibi said. “My biggest priority was making sure things were organized. We’ve met as coaches to figure out what’s expected. We don’t want to make this a burden for the kids. So we made sure we were prepared and I was pleased with how things went this morning.” 

What the fall season could look like for athletics remains to be seen. KSHSAA isn’t expected to make any sort of decisions until July. The association’s executive director, Bill Faflick, told the Sun two weeks ago that the state was on a “good path” to having fall sports.

But Monday’s return of workouts to the state is the first tangible return of sports as a whole to high schools in Kansas.

“We hope our numbers stay up,” Price said. “These kids are glad to be here, so we hope to continue that. The second day is never as fun as the first day. But we want the kids to get back out and enjoy life again.” 

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