The Northwestern State Athletic Department has outlined a plan to allow student-athletes to safely resume voluntary workouts June 8.
The NSU sports medicine and strength and conditioning staffs will work in collaboration with state government officials and the Natchitoches Regional Medical Center staff to adhere to state orders and recommendations regarding the novel coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic. Recommendations by the Centers for Disease Control also were included in developing the policy. The NCAA Division I Council recently passed legislation allowing voluntary workouts to resume nationally June 1.
“As is the case with any type of transition that reflects a change from the limitations that have been in place due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the health and safety of all involved are foremost in the decision making process,” said NSU Director of Athletics Greg Burke.
“It was the stance of our university and athletic department a week ago, when the voluntary workout legislation was passed, that NSU was not going to rush into this phase just for the sake of starting on June 1. The statement was made that we had one chance to ‘get it right’ and at this point, there is a good level of comfort that we are in a good place with the approach that is being taken with the voluntary workouts.”
A group of NSU coaches, staff members and representatives from NRMC, the university’s sports medicine partner, formalized the department’s comprehensive plan that addresses health and safety in advance of workouts, scheduling daily sessions and parameters for student-athlete activity and off-campus mobility.
“Our administration and coaches have confidence in student-athletes understanding the value of safety, not just for themselves, but for their teammates, coaches and support staff,” said Burke.
Student-athletes will fill out an initial COVID-19 symptom and exposure form upon returning to campus for the first time and will be screened daily for COVID-19 symptoms upon entering the NSU Athletic Fieldhouse. Student-athletes and sports medicine staff will be required to wear face coverings. All student-athletes as well as members of the sports medicine and strength and conditioning staffs will be administered a COVID-19 screening test before being allowed to participate in workouts.
Protocols are in place for further evaluation for those who test positive to ensure participation is safe for them and those around them.
The 6-foot social distancing protocol will be followed while in the weight room, and student-athletes must provide their own water bottles and towels. Weights and racks will be disinfected before and after each set of workout reps. Groups will be limited to 10 student-athletes, and the NSU weight room has been designed to allow room for student-athletes to maintain social distancing at all times. Student-athletes will be required to wash their hands before entering the weight room and will do so after exiting as well.
All student-athletes, coaches and staff members will enter the fieldhouse, which houses the weight room, through the front door to control and monitor access to the building. Meeting rooms, team locker rooms and the nutrition center will be off limits in order to continue to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
“First and foremost, the athletic department and coaches, along with our sports medicine staff and the NRMC staff, have done a great job building this plan that puts the student-athletes’ safety, health and well-being at the forefront,” football coach Brad Laird said. “We didn’t want to rush this thing back. Are we excited? Yes, we are. It’s one thing to Zoom, Webex, text or FaceTime, but there’s nothing like being able to see these guys and have them back in the city of Natchitoches. It’s an exciting time, not just for them, but for (director of strength and conditioning) Erik (Schwager), who’s been hired for a couple of months but hasn’t been able to work with them in person.”
Added Burke: “I have said all along that collaboration and communication have been and will continue to be imperative in navigating the unknown elements of COVID-19. NSU is blessed to have a dedicated and knowledgeable sports medicine staff which, with input from coaches, staff and professionals at our medical partner (NRMC), has developed a thorough plan which will serve as the foundation for the emerging return to campus by student-athletes.”
Approximately 30-40 student-athletes are expected to be among the first group to return to campus with that number expected to increase throughout June before growing to a more significant number in July ahead of August’s preseason workouts for football, volleyball and soccer.
“It just feels right walking in and being ready to roll,” said Schwager, who was hired in March and has been filming video workouts and sending them to NSU student-athletes. “I hope the kids are ready as I am.”
The NSU athletic department has created a task force that will tackle changes for the 2020-21 year in areas such as event and facility management, team travel and additional fields.
Photo: Shemar Bartholomew (3) and Bryce Rivers (7) run out ahead of November’s game against Stephen F. Austin at Turpin Stadium. Credit: Chris Reich/NSU Photographic Services