Swim, wrestle athletes in tough situation | News, Sports, Jobs

Hadi A. Hadi normally sees his Liberty High School wrestlers sporting the colors of maroon and gold on Saturdays in December, competing one-by-one on an unfurled mat made of PVC rubber nitrile or a cross-linked polyethylene foam. It is quite shock absorbent for the competitors.

Warren G. Harding High School swimming coach Steve Lukco normally spends Saturdays this time of the year hovering on the edges of an Olympic-size pool, watching his swimmers pierce the water and pushing their bodies to their maximum potential.

On Tuesday, those activities were halted because of increased COVID-19 numbers. All athletics and activities will be suspended through at least Dec. 22, at which point Trumbull County’s public school districts will reassess the COVID-19 situation. John F. Kennedy High School and its lower campus is abiding by the recommendation from the Trumbull County Combined Health District.

Winter sports athletes inside the square county in northeast Ohio have different ways of dealing with this hiatus. Basketball players can find basketball hoops outside, even having those implements on their own property.

Most swimmers do not have pools, nor do wrestlers have mats at their respective homes.

“Just not being in the water is the biggest thing,” Lukco said. “You can’t go outside and hop in your pool. That’s our biggest thing is the in-the-water time — the personal one-on-one coaching at that point. That’s where we make our biggest improvements, when we’re in the water, working our technique, conditioning, preparing for a championship season.”

With no live interaction, it’s hard for athletes in both sports to remain in peak condition.

Hadi said some of his wrestlers do not have access to weights.

“It puts them in a pretty tight spot to be shut down for three weeks, four weeks, whatever it ends up being,” he said. “It takes a step backward in regard to their conditioning.”

Hadi fears his wrestlers will not be in competition shape when they return near the beginning of the year.

“I understand how serious this (COVID-19 pandemic) is, but at the same token I don’t understand why they waited until Tuesday to shut it down like that?” Hadi said. “Mahoning County is a hop, skip and a jump away, but they’re up and running right now.”

Running is good for cardiovascular health, which both swimmers and wrestlers use to stay fit.

Wrestlers have a circuit routine going in intervals of 6-minutes each, with 30 seconds to a minute of rest in between each set that includes things such as body squats and push-ups.

“Having them in the room with you is one thing and orchestrating practice or getting them to try to do stuff on their own is difficult,” Hadi said. “I wouldn’t say it’s a losing battle, but it’s a very tough fight right now.”

Swimmers focus on their upper body, along with hips, legs, feet and abdominal muscles, focusing on repetition in at-home workouts — something to supplement, but not replace, in-person practices.

“We talk to the kids about personal responsibility all the time,” Lukco said. “I tell them I’ve got you for max, four hours a day. That’s when we’re doing two-a-days. Normally it’s a two, two-and-a-half hour day I have you to work with you. That’s not enough to be an elite swimmer. You’ve got to do more. The ones that get it do. The ones that don’t, don’t.

“We do everything we can, obviously. We reach out to our kids. We’re sending them workouts. We set up weekly Zoom calls.”

Hadi said this shutdown hinders his team in other ways. Wrestlers are supposed to get a weight assessment. It tells you the minimum weight class you can wrestle for the season and when you can get to that point. Usually this is done the last part of November. Not this year.

The deadline to get those numbers submitted to the Ohio High School Athletic Association is Jan. 15.

“That’s not going to be an easy task,” Hadi said. “Those are the things people don’t know of the sport. Kudos to these young men and women that participate in it. It’s just not easy. I’m hoping the OHSAA will consider extending the Jan. 15 deadline to give us another week or so.”

Lukco said his team wore a T-shirt one season that said, “To get something you never had, you have to do something you’ve never done.”

“Weird doesn’t even begin to describe it,” he said. “You do everything that you can. It feels like you’re not doing enough or you’ll never be able to do enough when you’re not in your normal situation.

“I talk to my kids all the time of being comfortable of being uncomfortable with your swimming routine. You have to push yourself. This is going to test out a lot, how comfortable are you going to be in an uncomfortable situation. You’re going to have to do some things you have never done before.”

Hadi said his team, which won a Division III sectional title last year, has a good core returning this season. They were in shape, committed to getting better each day.

“Then all of sudden you see the rug get pulled out from underneath them,” Hadi said. “I feel bad for them. I’m trying to make sense of it. I see hundreds of people at Walmart at the same time, swarming around. The health department really needs to step back and evaluate what we’re doing as coaches and a school district.

“Kudos to Liberty Local School District. They have been very proactive in talking to us, telling us what their expectations are, making sure we’re doing the right thing, taking temperatures, making sure any kids with symptoms aren’t at practice. I’ve followed what they’ve asked. We’ve had no issues.”

He said he was willing to split his practices to have his 20 wrestlers split into groups of 10 for practices, disinfecting mats after the first practice and bring in the other group after the cleaning to keep separation.

Hadi added that Liberty wrestlers have been working in groups of four, interacting in the mat room, weight room and other functions during practice.

People wonder how wrestling functions in this pandemic and era of social distancing, being such a physically demanding sport. Hadi dispels this myth.

“I keep hearing people say there’s so much contact in wrestling and blah, blah, blah,” he said. “The funniest thing is, we are probably the cleanest sport. We disinfect our mats daily, two times a day. Liberty furnishes our kids practice clothes every day. We have them picked up, laundered. We know the kids are wearing clean clothes. Our kids are required to shower after every practice. The showers are disinfected every day.

“I hear people say that. They have no idea what we do.”

The wrestlers and swimmers have to keep up their workouts on their own.

“They’re not allowed to use our facilities,” Lukco said. “We’re not allowed to be in contact with them.

“There’s no template for this. You don’t know what to do. It’s a struggle.”

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