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On 1st real day of practice, HS sports are back. Look for smiles under the masks

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Shortly after 2 p.m. Monday, a steady stream of cars began making the turn off Don Connor Boulevard and into the rear parking lot at Jackson Memorial High School.

From those cars — some driven by moms and dads, others by the students themselves — emerged the athletes who populated Jackson Memorial’s athletic facilities on a delightful, partly sunny day with just the slightest tinge of fall on a refreshing breeze.

At Jackson Memorial, and at most high schools across New Jersey, Monday was the first official day of practice for fall sports — boys soccer, girls soccer, field hockey, cross country, girls tennis and football. The only sports not underway are gymnastics and girls volleyball, fall indoor sports, which were moved to the new “Season 3.” Practice begins Feb. 16, 2021 and competitions March 3.

It was the first day high school sports teams conducted practices at the same time on campuses since Gov. Phil Murphy ordered all New Jersey schools closed on March 18. Murphy ended all hopes of a spring sports season on May 4.

“There are aspects about it that felt really normal and aspects that are different,” said Oak Knoll field hockey coach Ali Good. “We just need to find that happy medium and celebrate the fact that we’re out there and take it day by day.”

With many districts in the state opting for virtual learning, athletes finding their own way to practice is just one of the new normals in the abnormal year of the coronavirus. Athletes either wore face coverings or had masks hanging below their chins in Jackson. Across the state, athletes will undergo temperature checks daily — some performed by athletic trainers, some done by the coaches themselves. Athletes arrived to find school buildings, locker rooms and field houses off limits and were told to bring their own water bottles.

“Our intent, while following the guidelines given to us, is to move forward with the intent of actually playing some games,” said Rob Paneque, the athletic director for Jackson Memorial and Jackson Liberty. “I think everyone from the (Shore) conference, from administrators to the coaches, are united in making it safe for the kids — not just the athletes — every kid.

“You can just see the kids and the coaches missed it. It’s almost like the absence of sports has made everyone realize just how much they love it.”

For athletes from High Point to Cape May, Monday felt like something close to normal.

“The masks look funny on the coaches, but it seems the same to me,” said Kingsway’s senior linebacker-fullback Sylvester Van Morter. “I’ve never wanted to be out here so much than right now. It was a struggle in the summer with the COVID. It feels great to be with my brothers. I was very worried how things would turn out. Right now it’s happening and it feels great. It all seems normal.”

After six months of predominantly bad news for high school sports, those feel-good words were uplifting for players, coaches, administrators and parents.

While the NJSIAA listed Monday as the first day of practice, football and field hockey programs were given the option of starting a “heat acclimatization” period on Sept. 11. Any programs that didn’t start last Friday began heat acclimatization Monday.

According to National Federation of High School Associations guidelines, heat acclimatization is designed to reduce the chances of heat illnesses, which can be caused by “participating in high-intensity, long-duration or repeated same-day sports practices and training activities during the summer months or other hot-weather days.”

Under NJSIAA heat acclimatization protocols, “days one through five consist of the first five days of formal practice. During days 1–2 of the heat-acclimatization period, only helmets should be worn. During days 3–5, only helmets and shoulder pads should be worn. Beginning on day 6, all protective equipment may be worn, and full contact may begin.”

At Manchester Regional, in North Haledon, practices were greeted with enthusiasm after public outcry convinced the Manchester Regional Board of Education to first revisit fall sports and then reinstate them last week. The Board had voted to cancel fall sports in August.

“It was amazing to see everyone together,” said Anthony Colandres, a senior lineman on the Manchester Regional football team. “Everybody was so happy. We were all excited. We were a little rusty, but we got back into our usual flow.

“Everybody had fun,” Colandres added. “That’s the most important thing when it comes to sports. Everybody went home happy, and we were just happy to be back on the field.”

“Everybody was all excited and happy that the Board of Ed meetings and all of that was over with,” Manchester Regional athletic director and football coach Rande Roca said. “It was two weeks of ups and downs. It was really nice to say that’s done with let’s worry about playing now.”

For male and female athletes who lost their spring seasons due to coronavirus, it was a in-person reunion with coaches, classmates and teammates after a forced hiatus. At Watchung Hills, 67 girls were at soccer practice Monday.

“I’m just happy for these kids to get back out here and enjoy what they’re doing after what they went through in the spring,” said Brian Figueiredo, who coaches girls soccer at Watchung Hills and softball at Chatham. “It’s just a genuine excitement to see the kids back out here doing what they love to.”

“It obviously felt a little different since we’re wearing masks and staying six feet apart when we’re not playing, but it was so good to get on the field, be with our teammates and just get in those drills we’ve been waiting for,” said Oak Knoll senior Colleen Quinn, who is the field hockey goalie and missed the lacrosse season in the spring. “Back in March I was really upset and it was a tough thing to think about. This definitely makes it better.”

After a scheduled suspension in workouts in all sports last week, teams now have two weeks to prepare for the start of an abbreviated regular season. Girls tennis begins Sept. 28, field hockey, soccer and cross country on Oct. 1 and football on Oct. 2.

“For us to have a senior season is really big,” said Micaah Garnette, a senior soccer player at Gill St. Bernard’s. “Even if it’s a shorter season, I know a lot of states aren’t even having a season. It’s a great opportunity to get out there and play.”

“I think we’re just really thankful to be here,” said Adam Berrocal, a senior soccer player at Gill St. Bernard’s.

In some conferences, two teams will play back-to-back games against the same opponent — in some cases, with the same officials — to make tracking easier in the event of any COVID-19 issues that may arise.

“The coaches and training staff have masks on the entire time, so that’s different,” Good said. “Usually we gather at the field and it’s a bunch of girls socially interacting and laughing between breaks, sharing water and filling up the water cooler. That’s not happening.

“If you put things side by side to compare there’s a lot that’s different from year’s past, but it’s human nature. Change happens for different reasons, and we’re in a period of change right now because of a pandemic. It’s something we have to change and pivot to. The alternative is not playing.”

The scaled-down regular season will lead into a postseason that will be different than anything ever sponsored by the NJSIAA. In all sports, the traditional classifications, groups and sections are gone and replaced by six regions. Last Thursday, the NJSIAA announced four-team pods will be used for a two-week football postseason. The five football conferences, and not the NJSIAA, will determine the configuration of the pods.

“The playoffs are so far off and there is so much that could happen from now until then,” Paneque said. “My concern was getting through today’s practices. Tomorrow I’ll worry about those practices. We are seriously taking one day at a time.”

Thank you for relying on us to provide the journalism you can trust. Please consider supporting NJ.com with a voluntary subscription.

Joe Zedalis may be reached at jzedalis@njadvancemedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @josephzedalis. Like NJ.com HS sports on Facebook. Staff writers Bill Evans, Brian Deakyne, Evan Slavit and Brandon Gould contributed to this report.



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Fall Sport Senior Spotlight: Campbell Harris

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Fall Sport Senior Spotlight: Campbell Harris
21 Campbell Harris, C
6-5, 210, Sr., Yucaipa, Calif. (Yucaipa High School)
 
In his own words: This past summer, I took powered flight. It was awesome experience to finally view the Academy and Colorado from above the clouds. On my last of four flights, I got a chance to fly with 2013 grad and former water polo player Auggie Arcidiacono. After graduation, the most important thing that I want to do, is to take care of airmen. Over my years at the Academy, I have gained valuable experience of what it means to be an outstanding leader. I have watched it form in the pool and out of it. So, if I am flying in the air with a team or on the ground with one, my primary goal is to take care of airmen and influence them to be the best they can be. Going through this COVID age, it is important to be empathetic, and treat each other with dignity and respect. I think it is important to understand that this is a HUGE learning experience for all of us. With everything that has happened since March, to what will happen for the rest of year, we cannot be content with keeping our heads down. We need to keep our heads high and be able to embrace the situation with open arms and be willing to learn every step of the way.
 
 
2019: Team MVP … second-team all-WWPA … played in all 28 games and tied for the team lead with 53 goals … led the team with 125 shots … third on the team with 57 points … 47 drawn exclusions, nine steals and four field blocks on the season … tied his career high of five goals twice during the season (Whittier and Loyola Marymount) … four or more points in a game five times … five goals and seven points in two WWPA tournament games as the Falcons posted a 1-1 record.
 
2018: Played in all 27 games and was sixth on the team with 39 points … tied for third on the team with 38 goals … third on the team with 11 drawn exclusions … four steals and five field blocks on the season … career-best five goals against Santa Clara … four goals against Fresno Pacific and Pomona-Pitzter … three or more goals in five games … career-best six points against Santa Clara.
 
2017: Played in 17 games and had two goals and three assists for five points … first career goal came against Cal Lutheran … career-high two assists, and two points, against Claremont Mudd Scripps.
 
High School: Lettered four years in both water polo and swimming … Citrus Belt League co-MVP and first-team all-league as a junior and senior … second-team all CIF as a junior and senior … scored 125 goals as a junior and 130 as a senior … played for the Yucaipa water polo club team.
 
Personal: Son of  Timothy and Jill Harris … member of cadet squadron 12 … major if geoscience … father is a 1986 USAFA graduate and is retired from the Air Force… he was a four-year letterman at goalie and was captain and MVP of the 1985 team … father is an instructor pilot for United Airlines … his father was in the first class recruited by former Falcon coach Jeff Heidmous … Campbell was in the final class recruited by Heidmous … mother is an economics professor at the Academy … long-term goal is to be a pilot … on the Athletic’s List … is the assistant communications flight commander in his squadron … this past summer, completed the powered flight program … his flight instructor was former water polo player, and 2013 USAFA grad, Augie Arcidiacono … favorite athlete to follow on social media is LeBron James … if he could have dinner with any three people, it would be J.K. Simmons, Bruce Willis and Robert Williams … best advice he ever received was “Fail Early, Fail Often” … favorite musical groups are Foo Fighters, U2 and Rush … favorite possession is his drum set … if he had a walk-up song, it would be Tom Sawyer by Rush … something not many people know about him is that he is ranked nationally in Rock Band 3 … greatest individual moment in sports was scoring 12 goals in high school against his school’s rival … one word to describe himself is determined … favorite sport other than water polo is volleyball … credits his father, Matt Carpenter and Kevin Womack as having the greatest influences on his sports career … hobbies are music, video games, bowling and drawing … started playing water polo at the age of 12.
 
From Head Coach Ryan Brown: Campbell has been our anchor in the in center of our front court offense and will continue that this season.  Also, he provides us with a large target in the extra-man (6 on 5) situations.  We look for Campbell to end his career here as a great leader and strong force for our offense this season.
 
 



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College Football Weekend Preview: Maybe Watch Another Sport

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As the college sports world is in chaos, with some teams playing, some dropping out and the Big Ten suddenly changing its mind about playing football this fall, it might get overlooked that there is another slate of games this weekend.

And, partly because of the confusion and cancellations, that slate of games is absolutely terrible.

A fan hoping to forget the state of the world for a while and enjoy some high quality football is going to be at a severe loss this Saturday. Is there even one game worth watching? Let’s look at the lineup.

Only two members of The Associated Press Top 10 are in action this weekend, and neither game seems likely to be an edge-of-the-seat contest.

No. 7 Notre Dame is usually a popular team to root for or against, but how much uncertainty will there be this week against South Florida, a 25-point underdog that finished 4-8 last year?

At least No. 1 Clemson is playing … against The Citadel. Trevor Lawrence, Travis Etienne and company are usually exciting to watch, but their F.C.S. opponent is playing the second of what is expected to be only a four-game schedule. Clemson is a 45-point favorite, and frankly plenty of people will line up to bet them anyway.

Willing to dip a little out of the top 10? No. 11 Oklahoma State and their speedy running back Chuba Hubbard are 23-point favorites over Tulsa. And No. 13 Cincinnati is a 33-point favorite over Austin Peay. Don’t expect surprises.

“College GameDay” has chosen to travel to No. 18 Louisville and feature its game against No. 17 Miami. It’s the only game between ranked teams this week, so there’s that. But a closer look shows it might be far from a classic. While Louisville was a respectable 8-5 last season, finishing three games behind Clemson in their A.C.C. division, Miami was 6-7, its season culminating in a 14-0 loss to Louisiana Tech in the Independence Bowl.

No. 14 Central Florida against Georgia Tech isn’t an awful matchup. Central Florida is a few years removed from when it had actual national title aspirations, but it still has a 35-4 record over the last three seasons. Georgia Tech is coming off a bad year, but it opened the season with a 16-13 victory over Florida State as a 13-point underdog.

Because Big Ten and Pac-12 teams are not currently ranked by the A.P., quite a few lesser lights suddenly are considered “top 25” teams. Though No. 19 Louisiana-Lafayette just defeated Iowa State, its game this week against Georgia State doesn’t set the pulse racing, nor does No. 24 Appalachian State against Marshall.

There aren’t any, although a few A.C.C. games are being played. Aside from Miami-Louisville, there’s No. 25 Pitt against Syracuse and Wake Forest-North Carolina State. Not even an A.C.C. fanatic is canceling other plans for those.

Baylor had a problem. Its game against Louisiana Tech had been canceled after an outbreak among Tech players. That left it with no warm-up games before Big 12 play began.

Houston had the same problem. An outbreak at Memphis had caused a postponement of their game this week.

So after some frantic calls and negotiations, Baylor and Houston agreed to face off on Saturday. The deal took days, rather than weeks, to arrange, and was made barely a week before the game, an increasingly common timeline in these pandemic days.

And this shotgun marriage may turn out to be the most intriguing game of the day.

Baylor was 11-2 last year before losing to Georgia in the Sugar Bowl, and again looks like a top-five team in the Big 12.

Baylor doesn’t always schedule tough nonconference opponents, to say the least. Last year its games were against Stephen F. Austin, Texas-San Antonio and Rice, and Baylor beat them by an average of 32 points.

But Baylor may have stumbled into a real game this week. Houston was only 4-8 last year, but that was after essentially giving up on the season and allowing many top players to redshirt after a slow start.

Baylor lost Coach Matt Rhule to the Carolina Panthers and may have the growing pains of dealing with a new system and staff.

Given all that, Houston is only a 4½-point underdog, meaning a close game is more than possible. And there should be scoring. Houston’s Air Raid offense tends to put points on the board, and its defense can give them up. The over/under for the game is 63.

Maybe there’s something to watch on Saturday after all.

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State High fall contact sports can play depending on in-person learning

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The State College Area School District made its ruling on fall sports competition Thursday night.

The Little Lions will have some form of fall sports, but whether a student can play might depend on a number of factors.

The SCASD school boards approved two different plans for fall sports: one for non-contact sports and one for contact sports.

Non-contact sports (cross country, golf and tennis) can participate in fall competition whether the district is doing in-person learning or not.

Contact sports (football, field hockey, soccer and volleyball) can participate in fall sports competitions only if the school district is participating in in-person learning. If the district is doing remote learning, contact sports can only practice and conduct inter-squad scrimmages.

The school board approved the plan for contact sports by a 7-2 vote. You can see the full school board meeting here. The district is currently in its second week of remote learning.

You can review the district’s full health and safety plan here.

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