Hampton teams walk through covid minefield to complete successful fall season

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Saturday, November 14, 2020 | 11:01 AM


Bill Cardone was sitting in the parking lot at Pittsburgh International Airport on Aug. 21, waiting to pick up his wife, when he got the news.

The longtime Hampton athletic director learned the PIAA had approved the return of high school fall sports amid the covid-19 pandemic.

“I felt really good about it,” he said. “I knew we had work ahead of us. … There were a lot of things running through my mind.”

Thanks to Cardone’s detailed protocol, painstaking diligence by the coaches and unprecedented demands embraced by the athletes, Hampton was able to thrive during the most unusual sports season in the school’s history.

Hampton’s seven varsity fall sports — boys and girls cross country, football, golf, boys and girls soccer and tennis — completed their seasons without any covid-related interruptions.

“We had a very clear path of how to make this season work,” girls volleyball coach Annie Bozzo said.

There were some early scares. A boys soccer player and the sister of a girls volleyball player tested positive in early August, prompting temporary shutdowns, but once the seasons got going, they played their full — albeit abbreviated — schedules.

The coaches and players agreed it was a team effort that allowed high school athletics — such an important aspect in the lives of hundreds of Hampton students — to continue despite the constant threat.

“First of all, the plan that the school and Cardone put in for us was perfect,” girls soccer coach Bill Paholich said. “It was a lot of pain-in-the-butt type things we had to do, but we understand we had to do them in order to keep everybody safe.

“It all comes down to the kids. Are they going to buy into it? Whenever you don’t have any positive results or anybody getting sick, they either did it right or else we got lucky. I like to think our girls did it right.”

Plan comes together

Weeks before the PIAA announcement in August, Hampton had composed a return-to-play plan. Cardone, principal Marguerite Imbarlina, administrative assistant Brigette Gibbons and athletic trainers put their heads together to devise protocols aimed at lessening the chance of an outbreak.

Cardone and other WPIAL athletic directors shared information on their method of attack.

“We all had plans. We talked. We shared information,” Cardone said. “The sharing was unbelievable.”

Before each practice or game, the athletes had their temperatures taken and were asked five or six questions to gauge if they were feeling sick or had come in contact with someone who had tested positive. There were constant reminders from coaches and administrators.

“Kids look at you like you are weird when you tell them to go home and take a shower,” Cardone said.

Masks were mandatory for coaches, trainers and any visitors to practice at all times. The athletes also wore masks at practice, depending on the level of the workout and the extent of their exertion.

The teams used two buses instead of one for road trips, so students could sit one per seat, and the football team used larger buses.

None of the teams used the field house or locker rooms to shower or change uniforms before or after practices. The football players arrived in their gear, carrying their shoulder pads and helmets. Footballs, helmets and pads were sanitized, and uniforms were cleaned daily. Indeed, washing machines in Hampton kept busy during the past two months.

“We had to wash all of our stuff after practice pretty much every day,” senior linebacker Conrad Harold said.

Boys soccer coach Matt McAwley and his assistant coaches took turns washing practice jerseys each night, and the soccer balls were sanitized after each workout.

“The kids never really faltered,” McAwley said. “They wanted to play this year. That was the biggest thing, the fear of not being able to have a senior season for all of our seniors. It was just an immediate buy in.”

They knew the stakes. Hampton athletes had seen last spring’s season wiped out, a devastating blow to many in the Class of 2020.

That desire to compete made the protocols’ demands easier to accept.

“We did everything we had to do,” senior boys soccer player Corey Scherer said. “The team definitely took it serious.”

The practices and games were a welcome and critical outlet for the students, who had dealt with spring and summer shutdowns and then a hybrid schedule this fall in which they took in-school classes two days a week and virtual learning three days a week.

“It was really nice being able to get out and actually work out with your friends and being able to see them,” Harold said.

Winter awaits

The winter sports season provides the next challenge.

Unlike fall sports, where the vast majority of practices and games are outside, winter sports — basketball, gymnastics, hockey, swimming and wrestling — are indoors. Winter practice for WPIAL sports begins Nov. 20.

“Inside is a little bit of a different animal than outside.” Cardone said.

Hampton’s lone indoor fall sport, girls volleyball, had to adjust more than the other fall sports. The Talbots’ roster alone exceeded the 25-person indoor limit, so the varsity practiced in one gym and junior varsity in another.

“Our season was a little bit trickier,” Bozzo said. “But we made it work. We took every precaution necessary.”

Cardone, the AD at Hampton for the past two decades, said protocols will stay the same for winter sports with “some adjustments.” He is holding meetings with each team to stress the importance of the plan, just like he did with the fall sports.

“I told them it’s not just about you,” Cardone said. “It’s about all of our sports teams. … They wanted a season. They saw what happened in the spring, and that’s one thing I reminded them. I said, ‘Ask the kids in the spring how they felt.’ ”

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