How local athletes are staying in shape until, and if, spring sports resume
This was the season Neuqua Valley senior thrower Matt Appel had been building toward.
After placing third in discus and fourth in shot put at last year's Class 3A state track and field meet in Charleston, Appel had his sites set higher.
"I was thinking this was my year to, hopefully, be double state champ," he said Monday.
The arrival of the COVID-19 pandemics has changed the landscape. The closing of all schools meant the postponement of interscholastic competition. For now.
Like so many athletes involved in spring sports or offseason training, Appel -- committed to Yale since November -- is doing his best to stay in shape while keeping fingers crossed he gets the chance to pursue his goal.
"I'm just trying to stay positive and keep on going as if a state championship is still going to happen, which I really hope it does," Appel said. "I'm really happy that the IHSA hasn't canceled anything prematurely."
Neuqua Valley throws coach David Ricca set up a Google classroom for his athletes. It included a link to a body-weight workout the throwers could do at home in place of their usual weightlifting routines. The workout includes exercises like push ups, body-weight squats, squat jumps, lunges, lunge switches, step-ups with knee drive, planks and pullups, among others.
"Pretty much anything you can think of," Appel said. "Some of the muscles in that workout get hit a little bit harder than the ones that we do in the weight room. I've actually felt a little sore in places. As long as I'm pushing myself, I feel like I'm getting a good workout no matter what. I feel pretty good."
Batavia brothers Quinn and Trey Urwiler are both committed to college football programs. Quinn, a senior football and baseball player committed to play linebacker at North Dakota, is scheduled to leave for training camp on July 6. Trey, a junior wide receiver, recently committed to Northern Illinois.
Quinn said he is borderline obsessed with maintaining his fitness level. "If something doesn't seem right, I always have to fix it," he said. "My cousins are freakish with working out, too. It runs in the family."
In fact, their father, Gary Urwiler, is a CrossFit coach in addition to being the Executive Director of Mooseheart Child City & School.
Gary said he has been doing his CrossFit workouts on the driveway of his home. Meanwhile, his sons are doing lots of push ups, sit ups and running. Quinn is also trying to stay in baseball shape in case someone says play ball.
"Right now we're just going outside and throwing and finding a spot where you could possibly get some hitting in," he said. "We play catch but someone always ends up throwing it over someone's head. Then it's like, 'No, you go get it.' "
Social distancing keeps players from working out in groups. Palatine baseball coach Paul Belo said the unique circumstance gives athletes "an opportunity to grow within their own household."
Belo should know. His son, Bryan, is the returning shortstop at Jacobs, which reached the Elite Eight of the Phil Lawler Classic last summer. He said his son is doing his best to stay fit.
"He's down in the basement trying to make the best of what he has," Paul Belo said. "We do have a medicine ball and a physio ball down there, a Dyna Disc and bands and cords, so he does the best with what he's got. He continues to move his body with front squats, back squats, anything he can do with body weight or maximum resistance."
As for batters looking to stay sharp, the veteran coach offers some advice: "Sometimes it's a matter of getting in your garage and doing it like we used to in the old days. Get your tee out, hang a carpet from the rafters and hit into it. (Bryan) is not beyond doing that since all the facilities are shut down."
The weight room at St. Edward High School in Elgin closed along with the school on Friday, March 13. That meant the end of weightlifting for junior baseball player Johnny Jimenez, who had been working out six days a week. His routine has been scaled back.
"I have some weights at home so I'll do as much as I can," the 16-year-old Elgin resident said. "I'll go outside to keep my arm loose and hit off the tee. Basically, I'll do as much as I can to stay in shape for the summer season if it doesn't happen this spring. But we're just all hoping to be a team again before the year ends.
"I'm trying to mentally stay focused because you never know if you're going to get the call."