A message to fall sports student-athletes: Have fun, and be safe
That was the message student-athletes received Monday when practices began in boys and girls cross country, boys and girls golf, girls tennis and girls swimming.
With football, girls volleyball and boys soccer on the shelf until spring, the 2020-21 school year of high school sports began anew, but with a very different look.
Unless competing face coverings are mandatory for everyone.
Social distancing is being stressed at every turn.
No high-fives, handshakes, fist bumps and hugs.
Groups can't exceed 50 and multiple groups have to be distanced a minimum of 30 feet apart.
Strange? Yes, but with safety the top priority in the COVID-19 era, we should not expect anything less.
In golf, social distancing isn't difficult. Nor should it be in tennis. In swimming it's a little tougher being indoors but with no relays allowed, it becomes a bit easier.
"It was definitely weird," Barrington swim coach Alex Mikolajewski said after the Fillies' first practice.
"We had one to two people per lane and spaced them out. It was good to get everyone back and we're just trying to do what we can. It's an opportunity and we just told the kids to be enthusiastic about every opportunity you get."
That opportunity extends to athletes who might not otherwise be in a pool, running a cross country race, grabbing a tennis racket, or swinging a golf club this fall -- those who would normally be on a football field, a volleyball court or a soccer pitch.
"We had a couple of cheerleaders come out and do their flips from the diving board and we had a couple volleyball girls come out to swim," Mikolajewski said. "It's just great to have people out participating."
Barrington senior Alyssa Schwengel has been a lifeguard this summer at the South Barrington Club, so she was prepared for the guidelines at Monday's practice.
"It went really well," she said. "I was a little nervous getting back into it but coach Bear (Mikolajewski) did a great job."
Schwengel said once in the water, other than not swimming as close to each other as usual, things went well.
"The social part was really different," she said. "Normally we'd all be saying hi and catching up but they did a nice job of keeping us apart.
"When we got in the water it was pretty normal except we were all in our own lane."
Several coaches spent Monday doing virtual meetings with athletes to go over the rules and guidelines before practices actually begin.
They have the time to do it right -- while golf teams can begin playing matches Thursday, competitions in cross country, tennis and swimming don't begin until Aug. 24.
The message is clear to all the student-athletes participating -- wear your mask when required to do so and distance yourself as required. Wave your high-fives to your teammates, but avoid those traditional things that you're so used to doing after a practice or an event.
Listen to your coaches. They have been educated in the proper protocols.
But the two most important messages we can send today are these -- have fun, and be safe. Because we all desperately want to see this fall season unfold in the best and safest way possible.