Coaches Scrambling and Adjusting to New Schedules

A year ago, Great Oak coach Doug Soles was able to address his cross country team on school grounds. It's not so easy in the time of COVID-19 for Soles and coaches across the state. (Photo: Jeffrey Parenti)

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Google Classroom or Canvas? 

Edguinity or Odysseyware?  

Virtual or Remote?  

Zoom or Google Meets?

Asynchronous or synchronous?  

Edpuzzle, Flipgrid, Padlet, Peardeck, Edmodo, Blackboard, Screen Castify ... ??  

One could begin inserting all of these phrases and technology modes into Billy Joel's 'We Didn't Start the Fire.'

After months of being shut down from the COVID-19 pandemic, teachers all across California have been bracing themselves for the upcoming school year.  Working to not be overwhelmed by the multitude of technological opportunities available, each teacher has had to assess how they teach, ditching age old lesson plans for new ones.

This past week, teachers, coaches, students, and athletes returned back to 'school' in this upside-down year that has not exactly materialized into its own version of the free flowing lifestyle of 'The Roaring 20's' of a century ago.  

With every school district opting (or being required) to begin the school year in a remote learning format, teenagers are resorting to a voice and images behind the computer screen in the form of a classroom while teachers are reassessing how to best deliver content in an online manner.  With parents still scrambling to balance their own work schedules and many still not sure of the differences that define remote, virtual, home-based and distance learning from one another, this continual challenge defines these opening weeks of the 2020-2021 academic school year.

Of course, a number of teachers also double as coaches.  We sat down with several teachers/coaches to get their point of view of how this unique challenge of teaching is also crossing over into their daily coaching regime.  A lot of coaches are now working to plan around newly creating schedules, unlike anything they've ever had to manage.  

As we all are very well aware, nothing looks like it did some six months ago.

Another major change coaches have had to make is now gearing their training schedules to fit around the new schedules for cross country and track and field.  Even when students and teachers/coaches are allowed back on campus, many districts will transition to a hybrid approach, where several days a week will be dedicated to in-person instruction along with the current remote learning style.


As his school's only cross country/track and field head coach since opening its doors in 2004, Great Oak's Doug Soles shared his story on how this school year has opened for him and his athletes.  

For years now, Soles has utilized the mornings for his varsity groups while bringing together the rest of the program for afternoon sessions.  Those same athletes are meeting on their own and independently running to maintain fitness.  As one of the top programs in the nation, many of these athletes are planning to use the South Temecula Track Club for a more consistent, structured training routine until the county is cleared to allow for students to return to campus.

Soles now balances a schedule that includes 90-minute sessions that alternate periods between a Tuesday/Thursday format for periods 1, 3 and 5 while the rest fall on Wednesday and Friday.  Each 90-minute segment is accompanied by a 30-minute 'intervention' where students can engage with their teachers.  Mondays provide opportunities for teachers and students to interact in 45-minute segments.  By dedicating two hour blocks toward each class, the 'normal' day concludes at 2:30 pm.

Moving up the road, Great Oak has combined talents with Vista Murrieta over the last 15 years to become one of the true hotbeds of track and field/cross country talent in the United States. Coley Candaele has worn many hats in his years with the Broncos: head football coach, Athletic Director, head track and field coach, head cross country coach. These days, Candaele (at right in photo) just operates as the head coach for both the track and field and cross country programs.  He has been the school's only head track and field coach since Vista Murrieta opened in 2003.

Candaele's school utilizes a seven-period day, where students attend periods 1, 3, 5 and 7 for 60 minutes each on Tuesdays and Thursdays.  They alternate periods on Wednesdays/Fridays except for maintaining a fifth period where they meet daily for 30 minutes.  Like Temecula, the Murrieta school teachers meet with their students on Mondays in shortened periods.

Candaele's cross country session is second period.  During that time, they meet online while he works to motivate the athletes when he remotely communicates with them.  He does not plan to have his troops train on a consistent basis again until late September.

Candaele shared that he is working to have kids engage in as many outdoor activities as possible along with weight and core training. He concluded that in working with the new CIF-SS schedule -- which pushed fall sports like cross country to the end of December with a calendar overlap into track in mid-March -- we would still be in mid-April in relation to when athletes begin their summertime cross country training. As evidenced throughout his career, Candaele is well recognized for having his athletes peak for their most important races.

Brad Peters has been Martin Luther King's only cross country coach since the campus opened in 1999. Students in the Riverside Unified School District had three options (hybrid, online and home-based) to choose from.  The hybrid option is currently under remote teaching until further notice.  The online option is the all-year online alternative.  Meanwhile, the district also allowed for a more parent-driven home option where the student fully engages through an out-of-district online educational program.

Similar to many other districts, Peters reached out to explain that they alternate between the six period schedule as well, with Wednesdays being the day where the sessions are shorter and include every class. He does not have an athletic period and indicated that he will not meet with the athletes or organize any practices until given the green light to return.

Like several other nearby school districts, Peters shared that they are done with live teaching before noon with 'student/remote support' opportunities available for the students after lunch, from 12:30-2:30.

Meanwhile, Eastvale Roosevelt's David Cummings brings his own unique perspective to this situation as well.  Remember, Cummings did a phenomenal job guiding Roosevelt's boys to the CIF-State Meet after taking over head coaching duties mid-season a year ago.

Veteran teachers in the Corona-Norco Unified School District were given the option to operate remotely.  Those teachers (and students) will return to the physical classroom when orders to safely return back to campus are granted.  But, over 14,000 students and their families opted for the virtual route where they will stay online for the entire school year.  All five high school campuses witnessed over 30% of their students opt for the 'virtual' route which sent the district scrambling to find teachers to cover this overload.  

With that, Cummings was pushed into the 'virtual' world where he is no longer teaching at Roosevelt like many other colleagues.  He left in March with a schedule that focused more on college bound juniors and United States History and while the subject may be the same, he is now working with eighth graders across NINE different school sites (17 different attendance sheets) in a completely online format.  

"I sent more emails last week than I do in a given six month span," Cummings said. 

Along with balancing his 10-month-old daughter at home, Cummings conducts a zoom session for all of his students from 1-3 pm.

Glancing back to coaching, Roosevelt's athletes are enrolled in the remote class while Cummings, along with several other head coaches, were still granted an athletic period.  Meanwhile, coaching has been put aside for now as he balances these first initial weeks.  So, he will have to adapt his virtual teaching schedule when students are allowed to return.  

Even when students are allowed to resume on campus and with in-person sessions and when the season resumes in December, Cummings will have to juggle between the athletes' schedules and his own new 'virtual' one until the end of the 2021 school year.  

With the multitude of opinions on the topic of returning back to on-campus, in-person instruction, coaches and full-time teachers are also having to balance the fact that they are not allowed to meet with their athletes.  In seeking some sense of normalcy for the student athletes, in our next feature we will further explore the variety of motivational training techniques coaches are using throughout California.

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Mark Gardner is a former high school track and field and cross country coach who teaches U.S. History at Corona High School. He is a regular contributor to MileSplitCA.