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Players, coaches celebrate athletics return with hard work

To say student-athletes were excited to get back on campus and get to work Monday would be an understatement. In the two and a half months since schools were shut down in mid-March, student-athletes have had to find creative ways to stay in shape and keep their skills sharp. No matter what grueling weightlifting exercise or number of wind sprints, the players were happy to be back at work, where many finally got to see their friends and teammates in person rather than through social media.

“Going back to practice was definitely exciting and also different,” said Gracie Montgomery, a rising junior basketball player at Tharptown. “Despite the restrictions, I enjoy getting back in the gym. Being able to do what I love and work hard at it – that’s what I look forward to. I’ve counted down the days, and all I’ve got to say is, it is about time.

Many guidelines were put in place to keep players, coaches and their families safe. Some of those measures included social distancing, cleaning and sanitizing equipment and bringing their own drinks for hydration.

Coaches were also glad to see their players and work with them in person.

“It was really good to be back doing what we love to do and seeing all of the players and coaches once again,” said Phil Campbell Coach Kevin Barnwell. “We had a few come and express their gratitude and even mentioned that we are like family, which is true. You spend so much time competing with these guys on a daily basis, and it’s certainly something we appreciate and have missed these past few months.”

The Phil Campbell football team worked in individual stations outdoors and moved their weight room equipment into the parking lot outside of the field house.

“We are doing everything in our power to keep our players safe and expressed throughout the entire workout the importance of making sure we do our part to take care of ourselves, each other and also our families,” Barnwell explained. “We divided our players into small groups and had different workout times to accommodate our team and also constantly cleaned our equipment in order to assure cleanliness.

“In addition, we moved our weight lifting stations outside just to make sure each of our players could minimize the possibility of exposure.”

Barnwell’s son Luke, a rising senior quarterback for the Bobcats, said he and his teammates have tried to work on their own, but it is better to be with the team and work toward common goals.

“I was very excited to be able to be back on campus and with my teammates,” he said. “It feels like a long time since we were last together, doing teamrelated activities. Many of my teammates and I were still able to lift and do some things by ourselves to keep us from losing what we have gained. This has been a tough time for all of us, from handling the restrictions to just being apart from one another, but it is a great feeling to be able to be back and working.”

Red Bay’s football team started back early Monday morning with weight room work. Rising senior quarterback Jalen Vinson said getting used to the new restrictions is tough but worth it.

“It’s a little different having to work out with a mask on in the field house, clean the bars after we finish a set and not being able to hang out with teammates in the locker room, but it’s manageable,” Vinson said. “I think we’re handling the restrictions pretty well.”

Like his fellow athletes across the county, Vinson was just glad to be back with this teammates, whatever restrictions were required.

“It was really exciting to me because I spend most of my life with these guys,” Vinson said. “I looked forward to getting back to it with them and being with the team.”