Butler County athletes get creative to practice for possible spring seasons

The historic cancellation of Ohio prep sports now has young athletes fending entirely for themselves through solo training — sometimes with parents and even the occasional family pet filling in for teammates.

The state-ordered shutdown of all schools and school activities as part of coronavirus prevention measures stopped the spring high school sports season before it began.

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Tears flowed when, in mid-practice last month, Fairfield High School’s softball team was given the news their season had been at least stalled if not cancelled.

Fairfield senior Maiah Hodge, the team’s shortstop, said the abrupt halt has forced her and other area prep athletes to train on their own as she hopes to play softball for Mount Saint Joseph College after graduation.

“So now I practice with me, my dad, my mom and our dog,” said Hodge.

“It’s hit me pretty hard and everybody is still in shock. I’m getting a lot of practice but it’s still not the same without my teammates.”

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine has said the shutdown of Ohio schools will last at least until May 1. The fate of school sports teams remains unknown.

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It’s a similar atmosphere to the tumultuous days after the terrorist attacks on America in September 2001, said veteran Lakota West High School Athletic Director Scott Kaufman.

Even winter prep sports teams, which saw their tournaments cancelled in March, have lost out of postponed school sports banquets and awards ceremonies.

“Everything is on an individual now (to prepare),” Kaufman said. “The most important things for everyone is to follow the governor’s order for social distancing, (and) all of our athletic facilities and local private gyms are closed. So kids are left to do what they can from home. Conditioning, cardio, weights - if they have them - creativity if they don’t have weights and body weight exercises.”

A Ross High School graduate from the early 2000s, Jake Richards drew wide attention the fall of his senior year as Ohio’s first prep athlete to simultaneously play three sports – football, cross country and soccer — so he knows the role sports can play in a student’s life. He is now Ross’ athletic director.

Area athletes are rising to the challenge of solo training, he said.

“I see daily posts on social media of our student-athletes using creativity and sheer determination to work on skills and fitness during this unprecedented time. Whether it’s the kid riding his bike for miles to get his heart rate up or someone taking batting practice with whiffle balls to work on her swing, our kids are trying to stay ready,” he said.

“On the surface, a situation like this may seem to lessen the importance of education-based sports. However, I think this experience has already highlighted the critical importance of all that our schools offer, especially the co-curriculars, whether it’s music or art or sports.”

Aaron Blankenship, athletic director for Fairfield Schools, said some sports lend themselves more readily to solo training, such track or cross country.

“Obviously training on your own is easier in some sports more than others, but I’ve been impressed to see the resilience of our student-athletes in some of the pictures and videos that they have shared (online),” said Blankenship.

He encourages school parents “to echo the main message that we share within our athletic department, from our coaches to student athletes about the importance of controlling what is within their control.”

“While our student-athletes cannot control the events or major decisions dictating their sports season, each student-athlete can control his or her daily preparation to be ready for whenever sports are able to begin again,” he said.

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