Ohio recently moved to Phase 2 of the state’s coronavirus reopening plan, meaning contact practices, including intrasquad scrimmages and normal training regimen, for all sports are allowed. Individual school districts may choose to delay entering this phase if they feel it is not safe to do so. Still, summer workouts have been anything but normal in the high school athletics scene.

“Typically, we are full go with as many kids as we want at unlimited facilities,” says Aaron Zupka, Milford High School athletic director. “Instead, we were basically off for two to three months with just virtual stuff during that time.” Milford is now following the state’s recommendation by holding practices that comply with standards set by OHSAA.

But despite the all-around desire to return to competition, the virus is still a real threat that worries some students and parents. Some participants are at-risk individuals who are not sure if they will be able to safely play this year, says Zupka. All workouts at Milford are voluntary until August, but concern for COVID-19 will likely not disappear even as the school year begins. At Anderson High School, athletic activities were temporarily cancelled until June 30 after a student-athlete’s household member tested positive for COVID-19, according to the Cincinnati Enquirer. The football team, and other student-athletes at the school’s facilities during June 22 to June 25, may have been exposed as well.

Coaches, meanwhile, are caught between wanting to protect the safety of athletes and preparing their teams for the challenging season ahead.

“Our coaching staff has the ability to show kids about facing adversity in real life, not just football, during this pandemic,” says Evan Dreyer, Anderson High School head football coach. “This is a great opportunity for coaches to improve their communication to parents and students, how we handle what’s going on in today’s society, and to develop student athletes for success in life.”

The current approach among decision-makers seems to blend optimism with flexibility.

“I don’t want to make a formal prediction, but we are trending the right way so far,” says Zupka. “I feel most sports, especially low-risk sports, will happen if everyone does what they’re supposed to do.

“Kids are going to be happy to be out there, but it may look different.”