The Return of Athletics to West High

Like+other+athletes%2C+Varsity+Girls+Tennis+Captain+Ashelyn+Tablan+%2812%29+is+glad+to+be+back+at+practice%2C+working+hard+and+following+COVID+guidelines.

Art/Photo by Sullivan Kolakowski

Like other athletes, Varsity Girls Tennis Captain Ashelyn Tablan (12) is glad to be back at practice, working hard and following COVID guidelines.

Lauren Ng, Staff Writer

The supportive team huddle formed right before the game began. The adrenaline that rushed in as the first whistle was blown. The energetic roar of the crowd, urging the players to push forward. For athletes, the sights and feelings of their beloved sport are held closely to heart. But what happens when a global pandemic flips the sports world upside-down?

For West High, as well as many schools all over the country, in-person athletic seasons and practices have undergone a 6-month hiatus. But in the last few weeks, coaches and players have been arriving back on campus, masked and ready. Starting in late September, athletics began their return to West High.

   Mr. Druten, West High’s Athletics Director and Boys’ Cross Country Coach, explained how sports use COVID screening to approve athletes before being allowed to practice. Upon arrival to campus, students are always required to fill out a screening form, which asks if they feel ill, show certain symptoms, or have come into close contact with anyone who has tested positive for COVID-19 in the last 14 days. As Mr. Druten summarized, “We went through the whole LA County guidelines on how to return safely… We’re doing our social distancing [by] keeping everybody 6-15 feet apart.”

In addition, Mr. Druten described the masking protocols for cross country athletes: “We wear [masks] when we come in… [For] any light exercise, most of the [athletes] are wearing [masks], but as soon as we start  doing heavy exercises, like a little bit faster running… we’re [not required] to wear them.” However, for more labor-intensive exercises, taking off masks is merely an option. Mr. Druten added that “some kids actually wear [masks] the whole time.”

In addition to COVID-19 guidelines, other alterations have been implemented to accommodate the changes of the pandemic.  For starters, rather than fall, winter, and spring seasons, athletics will only occur during the winter and spring. According to Mr. Druten, football, cross country, volleyball, and water polo for both boys and girls will take place in the winter season. Since all other sports will commence in the spring season, Mr. Druten foresees that “the spring is going to be beyond crazy at West High School… [We’re] taking two different seasons and combining [them] into one.”

Regarding the prospect of fans, friends and family members will not be able to attend games in-person. However, the Athletics Department plans to use a new type of camera technology, as well as a YouTube channel, to let others watch the games unfold. Mr. Druten described that “anything inside the gym can be livestreamed so parents can… watch the game if they want to watch it from home. We’re working on doing that for football games too, [as well as] all the outdoor activities.”

As the cancellation of weekly practices, games, and summer camps leaves a hole in the Athletics Department, Mr. Druten emphasized that “it was the right thing to do…[There are] no sports worth somebody’s life.”

For Lily Ball (11), a member of West High’s Girls’ Varsity Cross Country team, she and her teammates were able to return to campus for practice on Monday, October 5. As Ball expressed, practices are looking very different since “usually, [the athletes] start out running together, but now [the athletes] are in pods, so it’s just based off of ability.”

All cross country runners have been put into “pods,” which limits the amount of athletes running together. But despite new restrictions, Ball noted one advantage: “I actually think that [the pods] made me a faster runner, because now I’m in the same pod with everyone who’s at the same ability as me.” This not only lessens the risk of exposure for athletes, but also motivates them to run faster, strengthening the team’s abilities overall.

   Devin Higashigawa (12) of the WHS Boys’ Varsity Basketball Team described some of the difficulties he and his teammates face. According to Higashigawa, the players currently are “not allowed to use balls,” which alleviates the spread of germs through contact. Having returned to campus on Wednesday, September 30, the team is currently focusing on workouts and conditioning, which includes “running, jumping jacks, [and] burpees,” Higashigawa explained.

Although the players still cannot use equipment, Higashigawa expressed that “[practice is still] fun… We’re all spaced out, so it’s hard to talk to everybody, but you can talk to those around you.”

Co-Captain of the Girls’ Tennis Team Ashelyn Tablan (12) outlined the process that players are using to keep others and themselves safe: “When we get to practice, our coach has to check us in one-by-one when we’re all waiting outside in a line, six feet apart. We’re all assigned to courts that are really far from each other, and we have to use hand sanitizer [and] wear masks when we do exercises, besides actually playing tennis.”

Similar to other sports, temporary restrictions have been placed on equipment use. As a result, practice is currently “not as enjoyable because right now we have no equipment, so we’re not really playing tennis,” Tablan admitted. However, she remains optimistic that “we’ll start to play like we used to again, hopefully in the next few months.”

Despite the absence of tennis balls and rackets, Tablan believes that practice is still effective “because we haven’t been practicing for all of quarantine. To go outside on the court for a little bit, just to be around the team and get out of chairs from school every day is really nice.”