Calm among the chaos: Coupeville coaches help athletes deal with loss of contests

With last spring’s sports season wiped out and the current high school sports scene in limbo because of COVID-19, Coupeville coaches are working hard to provide athletic outlets for their students.

Coupeville Athletic Director Willie Smith said the dedication of the coaches since the start of Phase 2 late last spring has been “awesome.”

“From my standpoint, I don’t think I could ask for a better coaching staff,” Smith said. “They jump in when needed and truly understand the impact and need for activity during this time.

“It goes way beyond enriching their programs and trying to get ahead; this group of men and women has truly gone above and beyond in trying to provide opportunities for our students to get active, get some real interactions with other students and adults, and provide some sense of normalcy in this time of chaos. I am both proud and privileged to be surrounded with such selfless and positive coaches.”

Smith said the coaching staff has worked together to develop a schedule that allows multi-sport athletes practice time with each team during the week.

The weight room is also open before and after school hours throughout the week.

“Brad Sherman, Elizabeth Bitting, Marcus Carr, Scott Fox, Kevin McGranahan, Kyle Nelson, Ken Stange, Cory Whitmore, Megan Smith, Alex Evans, Greg White, Jon Roberts, Craig Anderson, Sarah Lyngra, Cris Matioch, Jon Gabelein and Robert Wood have all been on board since the beginning and have done an incredible job of providing opportunities for our student-athletes,” Smith said.

The workouts follow safety protocols the three Whidbey Island high school athletic directors developed, using guidelines provided by the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association and the Island County Health Department. Some of the local safety protocols are more strict than required by the state.

At Coupeville, athletes are required to have a health assessment sheet signed by a parent or guardian each day; if they arrive without it, they are sent home. Coaches complete a WIAA-issued worksheet and keep all notes and worksheets in a binder.

So far, there have been no cases of the coronavirus among Coupeville athletes and coaches taking part in the current program, according to Smith.

Scott Fox

Girls basketball coach Scott Fox said coaches enjoy sharing their passion for sports with their athletes.

“I’ve been involved in basketball for over 50 years and the highlight of my day is still going to practice and competing in games,” he said. “It’s extremely satisfying to teach life skills through basketball while watching these kids improve their basketball ability and overall maturity. In today’s COVID world, it’s even more important to have this outlet as we are able to bring a team environment along with peer socialization that they are currently not receiving.”

Fox said his players’ attitudes and commitment have been “terrific” despite the challenges of social distancing and following sanitation protocols.

“The kids are enjoying seeing their friends again,” he said. “We are hoping to compete this year, but we constantly stress the only thing we can control right now is our attitude and our effort. Should we be given the green light to play, we’ll be ready.”

“I’m hoping that we will have a season for more than just the competition factor,” Fox added. “We want to represent the school and community with winning basketball. This is something we really pride ourselves in.”

Elizabeth Bitting/Jon Gabelein

Elizabeth Bitting said both the players and coaches needed the opportunity to get back to athletics when workouts were allowed to resume in May.

“It has helped us all,” she said. “Morale and enthusiasm has increased so much among our fine athletes. Every week I get an inquiry from an athlete asking if it’s too late to join. My answer is always — ‘It’s never too late.’”

Bitting, the cross country coach, offered a virtual summer fun run series for middle and high school runners, getting a “great turnout.” The athletes ran hundreds of combined miles and participated in virtual races.

Bitting and fellow cross country coach Jon Gabelein organized small group workouts which enabled the runners to socialize, which raised morale.

Gabelein said, “Providing these workout adventures allows students to benefit from positive in-person interactions with peers and coaches, encourages physical activity which serves as a healthy escape from all of their seated screen time and also helps strengthen their mental health during a very challenging time.”

Bitting said, “The athletes have bought into what we have created. They show up, put in the hard work and leave a little happier, maybe a little more tired too. Yes, they are upset we are not having races but, for the most part, they understand why.”

Bitting and Gabelein try to vary the workouts to avoid monotony.

“Every week we have a new hill to conquer and they have been loving it,” Bitting said. “Some athletes have even…run a hill more times than I have asked. They amaze me. They love being outdoors, seeing different scenery and running new routes.”

Gabelein said, “While we make sure fun is a leading factor each day, they also know I will be pushing them to realize they can achieve more than they might think they are capable of. I do this while providing different workout challenges that they can choose from.

“Some of the more unique adventures have included bungee cord resistance band drills, the fire hose partner pull challenge, scooter board workouts and using the sprint resistance parachutes.

“They are also enjoying the cartons of chocolate milk that I have been providing as our recovery treat once we complete the workouts.”

The running program has been such a success, the coaches have extended the workouts through Dec. 19.

“They want this, they need this, so we are giving it to them,” Bitting said. “So much has been taken away from them, not their doing, and this is just a small thing we could do to help them during this crazy COVID time.”

Jon Roberts

Youth coach Jon Roberts said he and Craig Anderson felt they could mentally challenge the kids with something the players know but have not been part of for several months because of the pandemic. The goal was to create a bond among a core of players who competed in middle school basketball, SWISH basketball and Babe Ruth baseball.

The baseball season was a “bust,” Roberts said, when it was canceled. The team, however, kept practicing to hone their skills for 2021. They are now working on improving their basketball game.

“We really feel its important to do whatever we can to keep them on the right course no matter the surrounding circumstances that they have no control over,” Roberts said. “We also recognized from baseball that in this crazy time that if we could create some ‘normalcy’ that kids do much better.”

The practices also get the players away from home and the computer they face each day for school, he said.

Roberts said the players are diligent about following safety protocols, even though it is “not easy to run with a mask on.”

“I would have to say the kids are grateful and realize it could be worse — no basketball,” he added.

Roberts said he thanks the parents for seeing the psychological health value of allowing their children to participate.

“I am so concerned about the mental health of the little people,” Roberts said. “We, as adults, mostly can adjust to the lack of socialization and added restrictions. Kids don’t get it. Whatever we can do (to help), Craig and I are going to do it.”

Cory Whitmore

Volleyball coach Cory Whitmore said these are “odd times, but learning how to adapt and adapt quickly has been the theme for this year.”

The most important element of the offseason workouts, Whitmore said, is adding back the social aspect of the athletes’ lives.

“It’s completely about providing a space for them to occasionally see each other, get a little physically active again and, because extracurriculars have been such an important part in their lives up to this point, give them that semblance of normalcy and long-term focuses (their future athletic goals).

“Nationwide, we are seeing the isolation hit our youth hard, and so to offer a response to that locally is very important. Plus I will attest this is good for me as well, for similar reasons.”

Whitmore noted that his athletes are frustrated because of the delay in the volleyball season and miss the competition, but it is “amazing to see them embrace the change and then run with it.”

The team emphasizes the “silver lining” of the situation, Whitmore said, and is honing its skills.

Because of safety protocols, the team can’t compete 6-on-6. Therefore, Whitmore said, “We are throwing in a lot of game-play into the practice plan and the girls have thrown themselves into the action. It’s been fun to see.”

Whitmore breaks up the monotony of practice by providing fast-paced drills of short duration, changing the focus of practice each day and using on-line meetings to discuss the “tangible and intangible parts of athletics.”

These include such things as personality assessments, mental toughness, leadership and film study.

“So even when we aren’t physically in the gym together, we get to meet, socialize and learn together in a socially distanced setting.”

“I just want to add how proud I am of this group of young adults, parents, administration and county officials for making our youths’ mental, physical and social health a priority in addition to safety,” Whitmore added. “It’s been so impressive to see the community come together to figure out how to safely make this work for our kids that so desperately need and deserve this chance.”

Brad Sherman

Boys basketball coach Brad Sherman said, “Getting our athletes plugged back into a team environment, connected and active is critical right now. Even if it looks and feels a little different, I think we are all grateful for the opportunity to offer something.”

This summer Sherman asked his team leaders to develop a team slogan for the year, and they penned “Nothing for Granted.”

“That’s the attitude I see from them everyday,” Sherman said. “It really is a remarkable group of kids to take a less than ideal situation like this and tackle it with the attitude, effort and grit that they’ve shown every single day.”