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Nipomo, Arroyo Grande enjoy second week of workouts
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Nipomo, Arroyo Grande enjoy second week of workouts

Football players are throwing footballs into nets instead of playing catch with teammates. Basketball players are rebounding their own shots, never passing the ball to a teammate. Others are planking instead of bench pressing in the weight room. 

But it's certainly better than nothing.

Nipomo and Arroyo Grande high school student-athletes began voluntary on-campus workouts Oct. 5. This week, the athletes were finally able to use some athletic equipment. But they could never, under any circumstance, share that equipment with a teammate.

So, on Tuesday, Nipomo quarterbacks Nate Reese and Nick Milton weren't playing catch with teammates. Instead they were working with quarterback coach Erik Terry on mechanics drills before throwing the ball into a net and then retrieving that same ball after one throw. 

Nipomo High girls basketball players were finally able to use basketballs at their practices this week, though, once again, they could only touch their own, never retrieving or passing a teammate's basketball.

This is the current state of athletics in the area amid the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Nipomo and Arroyo Grande are wrapping up their second week of having athletes back on campus. Russ Edwards, Nipomo High's athletic director, and Stephen Field, who holds the same post at Arroyo Grande, agreed that things have gone quite well at both school sites. Edwards and Field worked hand-in-hand to prepare their respective schools to bring athletes back to campus. 

Athletes participating in the upcoming 'fall' sports season and some of the 'spring' sport athletes returned on a voluntary basis, Edwards said. Those sports include girls basketball, cheer, cross country, football, girls soccer, boys and girls volleyball and boys and girls water polo. No programs are working out five days a week at Nipomo, Edwards said. Students are working out in pods of 14 students with a coach working with each pod every day. 

"I've never seen as many happy, out-of-shape kids as I saw last week," Edwards said. "This week, we've had more and more kids getting all their clearance materials in so they can start."

Edwards and Field said each school has had about 250 kids participating in these voluntary workouts. 

"We are slowly moving forward – we implemented individual equipment this week and we're excited to hopefully start sharing that equipment soon, pending county approval," Field said. "It's great to get kids back in general and get them on campus. Our top priority is to keep them safe."

Nipomo High athletes had the process down pat this week. Most students were dropped off by parents and all students wore masks when arriving to campus on Tuesday. All students turn in a daily half-sheet COVID-19 questionnaire which are then processed by athletic trainer Andrew Boortz.

The athletes remove their masks once working within their pods. The Nipomo girls basketball players worked with new coach Chris Litvinchuk on the blacktop as the temperature neared 100 degrees Tuesday. Litvinchuk led his girls through an appropriately intense workout and the players seemed to enjoy the challenge.  

"The enthusiasm and the spirit of the girls is high, I think they're excited to get back working out together," Litvinchuk said. "They haven't had organized sports since March. Even though it's conditioning and light workouts, I think it's been a pleasant experience for them. It's an optional thing and they're out here because they want to get better and I appreciate that."

Tony Dodge was happy to have his football team back out at Nipomo High. He's had about 40-50 kids a day for 90-minute workouts four days a week, with that bumping up to two hours a day by the end of the month.

"I'm glad they keep coming back because it's not easy," Dodge said. "Some of the coaches are making it pretty hard on 'em and they keep coming back. That's a positive sign."

The high school football season kicks off Jan. 8, with Nipomo playing Cabrillo.

Field said he's not quite sure how and when the schools will find out if they can expand their protocols, like being able to have athletes share equipment.

Also, multi-sport athletes are currently having to choose which sport they'd like to train with as they are not allowed to change cohorts after entering one. For instance, Nipomo volleyball players who are also on the basketball team are training with the volleyball team as that sport's season will start in January and basketball will start in March.

"It's been a whirlwind for me and everybody else," Field said of this whole process. "But it's reflective of what we've all been dealing with, all of our lives have, kind of, halted then restarted in a certain way. It's no different for us in the athletic realm. Just like businesses, we've had to reevaluate how we are doing things. All that kind of stuff, it definitely does have its challenges. This last week was a great example of that work. It's great to see kids back and it's a step in the right direction."

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