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Back in action
Fall high school sports begin summer conditioning
pitman football practice
All three levels of Pitman High football practiced together — but kept their distance — on Wednesday (ANGELINA MARTIN/The Journal).

While it’s still to be determined whether or not sports will continue as currently scheduled this fall, teams within Turlock Unified School District received the go ahead this week to begin their summer conditioning programs with plenty of safety precautions.

As schools within its 10 sections begin planning for the reopening of campuses in August, the California Interscholastic Federation will meet July 20 to discuss what sports could look like next school year due to the coronavirus pandemic. The CIF said in a statement it is prepared to offer alternative calendars if discussions determine fall sports may not start as scheduled due to the ongoing public health and safety concerns, which currently limit large gatherings and the sharing of sports equipment.

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Turlock varsity football coach James Peterson takes a player’s temperature before practice (ANGELINA MARTIN/The Journal).

In the meantime, football, cross country, girls golf, girls tennis, volleyball, cheer and water polo at both Turlock High School and Pitman High School are preparing for their respective seasons. PHS varsity football head coach Lance Weckerle said he was excited when teams got the greenlight to begin working out and hopes it’s an indication of more sports to come.

Under TUSD’s summer guidelines, activities are limited to conditioning and skills development only with no physical contact between athletes or coaches. Coaches are encouraged to clean and sanitize any field equipment, like cones or agility ladders, in between each session. All activities must be outside with six feet of social distancing between participants and athletes must participate in cohorts of 25 or less with a single, consistent coach during the entire conditioning session.

“As a coach, it’s very difficult to not reach out and greet my athletes,” Wecklerle said. “For the athletes, the challenge is to keep them six feet apart. Football is a contact sport, either by contacting your opponent or congratulating your teammate. Either way, it’s counterintuitive to everything they have been taught the majority of their athletic career.”

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Football players at Turlock High School were separated into smaller cohorts while conditioning on Wednesday, like this group running bleachers (ANGELINA MARTIN/The Journal).

All levels of football practiced at PHS’ new field this week, spaced out in their individual cohorts. Coaches take everyone’s temperatures and are to survey all athletes at the beginning of each session to evaluate their health.

At THS on Wednesday, three football players had to sit out of practice because their temperatures were too high. So far, head coach James Peterson said the toughest guideline to follow for students has been maintaining social distance not only because of the physicality of the sport, but because teammates truly missed each other. Despite the circumstances, he and the players are ecstatic to be on the field again for the 100th season of THS football. Peterson said he held out hope he would be reunited with his team even though the future of the 2020 season was unclear over the last few months.

“This is our 100-year anniversary in Turlock, so I had to stay optimistic with this being a monumental season for our school. My patience was tested while waiting and not knowing exactly what the impact would be due to COVID-19,” Peterson said. “The most difficult part was not being able to see my athletes and guide them, not knowing who was doing well and who was hurting.”

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Conditioning sessions throughout Turlock Unified School District are optional for athletes during the coronavirus pandemic (ANGELINA MARTIN/The Journal).

In order to participate in practice, student athletes and their parent or guardian must sign a waiver of liability acknowledging the risk of exposure to COVID-19 and agreeing to the health protocols. All conditioning sessions are optional and student athletes aren’t penalized if they don’t participate. Both Weckerle and Peterson said that the number of athletes participating in practice increased as the week carried on, from students whose parents may have been worried about them practicing at first to those who rushed back home from vacation after learning practice could begin.

Typically, the football teams would begin practicing with pads near the end of July. For now, they’ll have to wait on word from the CIF to see if it will be possible this year. While practice may look a little bit different, Peterson believes it will only make his athletes stronger.

“These student athletes are resilient people by nature. They have endured a lot of adversity and uncertainty in recent weeks. I believe that we will adapt and overcome these obstacles,” he said. “If anything, we may be stronger due to this entire process.”

As all fall teams await next month’s fateful decision, Weckerle believes the world could use more sports during these tough times — especially football.

“Friday night lights bring communities together,” he said. “I believe that’s what we need now, more than ever.”

For more information on TUSD’s guidelines for summer conditioning, visit .