Returning to the Great Outdoors

Returning to the Great Outdoors

Over two days, the atmosphere for fall sports season made a complete U-turn. “I would have given anything to have one more home field game, and now we have it,” said Emily Haddad, co-captain of the Whitman girls soccer team.

Sports teams from area schools returned outdoors to play and practice for the first time in nearly three weeks on Friday, Oct. 25 after the Thursday arrests of sniper shooting suspects.

Football was the first outdoor sport to resume competition. As scheduled, the Bulldogs hosted and defeated Landon on Friday, Oct. 25 in their homecoming game.

“It was a pretty good atmosphere out there,” said Jarod Robins, a senior on the Bullis football team. “Everybody was excited to be back on the field.”

“It was good to be home; it was a true homecoming,” said Bullis coach Walt King, whose squad had played four of its first five games on the road.

PUBLIC SCHOOLS RETURNED to the great outdoors to practice on Friday, remaining in code blue status through Thursday as news continued to develop on the arrests.

Outdoor teams were cleared by the Montgomery County Public Schools to resume practicing outside on Friday, and late in the school day, football games were cleared to play on Saturday, one day after they were originally scheduled.

"We didn't feel as prepared as we'd like to have been, but everybody felt that way. You have that and then the emotion of getting it all started again," said Ernie Williams, Churchill's football coach. "It was almost like the beginning of a new season again."

Churchill resumed play with a road game at Gaithersburg Saturday morning, while Wootton and Whitman played home games Saturday night after two weeks of canceled games and restricted indoor practices. Teams will play an extra make-up game tomorrow, Wednesday, Oct. 30 and play again on Friday, Nov. 1.

"We're going to be playing a lot of football in a short amount of time," said Dean Swink, Whitman's football coach.

Soccer teams practiced outdoors for the first time in weeks to prepare for this week's regional tournament.

“We’ve been really claustrophobic practicing inside, and we were really, really itching to go outside again,” said Haddad.

Weather permitting, Haddad and her teammates will practice outdoors in preparation for their first playoff game on Thursday, Oct. 31.

FIELD HOCKEY AND soccer playoffs, both scheduled to begin last week, began instead on Monday, Oct. 28. Seedings and rescheduled dates were announced last week by the Montgomery County Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association (MCPSSAA), but all seemed like vain gestures until last Thursday.

“It was getting pretty grim. We heard they were a day or so away from canceling the season,” said Jeff Saber, a co-captain of the Churchill boys soccer team.

Saber and fellow captain Chris Wielgus had the difficult task of keeping teammates’ spirits afloat with the fate of the season in doubt with each day.

“Playing indoor soccer is nowhere near playing outdoors,” said Wielgus.

“It’s just so difficult because indoors, the longest pass you’re going to make is 20-30 feet, even though the speed is still pretty good,” said Saber. “Things were getting kind of annoying, but our indoor games were pretty competitive; the intensity was definitely there.”

Many of Churchill’s indoor sports practices lasted only one hour, as six outdoor varsity teams vied for time in the school’s one gym with each other and the girls volleyball team, whose schedule continued through most of the code blue.

“A lot of people didn’t show up for practice,” said Robyn Bernstein, a co-captain on Churchill’s girls soccer team. “It was hard to get the message across, about what time practice was happening … and a lot of people were really confused.”

At Wootton, with two gyms, teams were able to keep a more consistent indoor schedule.

“We had two-hour practices just about every day,” said Steve Swift, Wootton’s field hockey coach of the code blue period. “I think I only gave them one day off.”

At Whitman, Haddad said she and her teammates tried to remain motivated despite the uncertainty.

“I think people completely kept the option open, and our coach made it clear that we weren’t going to change our level of preparation… because the [sniper] could be caught any day,” said Haddad.

UNDER OVERCAST skies, athletic life took a welcome return toward normalcy for outdoor sports teams on Friday. However, for players and coaches, the excitement of being back outdoors was tempered with the reality that nearly three weeks of limited practice had taken its toll on the level of play.

“We weren’t anywhere near where we had been,” said King of his team’s level of play against Landon. “The conditioning certainly was a big factor.”

“It was rough,” said Wielgus on the first outdoor practice for Churchill boys soccer. “The first half-hour of practice, everybody’s touch was off.”

“It was completely different, because the practices indoors were basically fitness,” said Wootton senior Aryn Epstein on the girls soccer team. “We did lots of ballwork on Friday, and we had a scrimmage on Saturday against Walter Johnson. … We actually did pretty well considering we’d been inside for so long.”

“It’s going to be a lot different when we step on the field, with the referees and the other team,” said Wielgus on Churchill’s first playoff game this Thursday, Oct. 31.