At long last, air clears for on-campus athletic training

Malia Wanderer, Sports Editor

Football players hold a side plank at the Palo Alto High School football field and train in a socially distanced manner. According to Varsity Football Coach and Athletic Director Nelson Gifford, learning to stay six feet apart at practice has been a challenge for most athletes. “In football, at the beginning and end of every practice, everyone comes together to do a break,” Gifford said. “Now we don’t do that. So it’s retraining all of these habits that were built into us over years, so setting up really good parameters, having good instructions and coaches reminding students to stay apart.” Photo: Malia Wanderer

As the anticipated start date of Season One sports approaches in this bizarre, smoke-filled, pandemic year, many Palo Alto High School athletes are finally returning to campus for socially-distanced preseason training sessions. 

Teams were allowed to begin holding outside preseason training sessions as early as Sept. 14. However, due to poor air quality, many practices have been canceled over the last few weeks.

“It’s disappointing that just when we were starting to practice as a team it was canceled again because of the air quality,” senior and cross country runner Emilie Difede said. 

According to Athletic Director and Varsity Football Coach Nelson Gifford, athletes and coaches have done a good job of staying safe by wearing masks, practicing social distancing and staying updated on constantly-changing rules. 

“There seems to be a pretty strong communication between the district, the school sites, the coaches, the athletes, and the parents—the five major parties that are all involved in this process,” Gifford said. “We have weekly meetings, updating the status of both the schools, trying to stay up to date on the changes in the state and county policies, and trying to really make sure that we’re being effective in whatever policies that we adopt.”

Among the many teams that have returned to Paly for practices is the girls’ field hockey team. According to junior Phoebe Kim, practices have been a good opportunity to get training in and reconnect with teammates. 

“Practice for field hockey has been extremely fun,” Kim said. “For now all we do is conditioning without any of our sticks or balls, but it’s been fun getting to know new players and seeing old returners again.”

Another team that has begun training is boys’ lacrosse, despite its season not starting until March. According to senior Ryan Yeung, players on the lacrosse team are also enjoying training and spending time with their team. 

“[Returning to practice] has been really great and fun; even though it’s just the preseason, we are still able to build community within the team and get better while staying safe,” Yeung stated in a text message. “The entire team understands the circumstances that we are in and we hold each other accountable to stay safe and follow the rules.” 

According to Gifford, the athletics staff hopes to be able to do more in the future, but for now, athletes and coaches should make the most of the practices they have.

“There’s so much that we don’t know and we don’t have control of,” Gifford said.  “Everyone should just appreciate whatever time you have and enjoy it because unfortunately, it’s not guaranteed.”

Season One sports teams will begin their season Dec. 14.