When normal everyday life came to a grinding halt in Ohio, across the country and across the world, schools were forced to close, leaving a void in the lives of many student-athletes.

With basketball season just ending and baseball season about ready to begin midway through March, Ohio Governor Mike DeWine mandated that schools close for three weeks due to the coronovirus/COVID-19 outbreak. Later, that closure was extended through May 1, and this week, it has recently been expanded to the remainder of the school year. The Ohio High School Athletic Association also mandated that any school facilities associated with sports be shut down to school athletic activities to help slow the spread during the closure.

So then how do athletes stay in shape in times like these? Two Piketon coaches, Kyle Miller (boys basketball) and Jonathan Teeters (baseball), decided to issue challenges to their student-athletes. These challenges have been readily accepted and even grown outside the circle of individuals they were intended to reach.

Videos posted to social media show the student-athletes completing their challenges, which in turn has encouraged others to get involved.

“I do not believe any other coaches, outside of Coach Teeters and myself, are issuing challenges. That doesn’t, however, mean that they are not,” said Piketon Boys Basketball Head Coach Kyle Miller.

“I believe we, boys basketball, posted the first challenge. But I’m excited that baseball got involved. Coach Teeters and myself, along with the entire staff at Piketon High School, are in the business of making a positive difference in all of our students and our athletes. These challenges are simply a positive step in that direction.”

Miller talked about the process for getting the challenges out to the members of the basketball program. The plan is to issue two challenges a week until the quarantine is lifted.

“The day of the challenge, I send a message out at 6 a.m. that contains the exercises to be completed along with a description of each exercise. I also include videos of myself completing the exercises, so the kids have a visual example as well. Once they complete the entire challenge, they send me a short clip of themselves completing each exercise, which then is posted by our coaching staff to Piketon Basketball’s social media pages.”

The first basketball challenge issued included: 100 Pushups, 100 Lane Line Slides, 100 Between-Pounds, and 100 Attacking Inside Hand Finishes.

“As far as the structure of the challenges I tried to keep a few things in perspective. First, we wanted to come up with a circuit of three to four exercises that would push our guys just beyond their capabilities, yet not be overwhelming as far as time spent on the challenge. Second, we wanted it to be sport specific. So, you will notice the exercises incorporate strength or explosive movements specific to basketball,” said Miller.

“You will also find ball-handling challenges and shooting challenges that our guys can complete independently. Lastly, we wanted to structure the challenges in such a way that their dependency on equipment is minimal. At most, our players simply need a ball and a hoop to complete an entire challenge.”

For baseball, the nature of the sport and the ability to practice solo created some challenges, but Teeters indicated that his players were adapting. Prior to starting the challenges, he discussed it with a few people and then received the go-ahead from Piketon High School Athletic Director Keith Dettwiller.

“Baseball is tricky due to the aspects that are required to be ‘game ready’. I told our staff, we were just physically getting ready (conditioning, arm strength, muscle memory) to play; then the virus strikes,” said Teeters.

“We do a lot of arm care (bands, stretching, etc.) so it’s very important for our guys to make the best out of what they can and even more important to throw as much as possible to keep their arm in shape.”

The first Piketon baseball quarantine challenge consisted of 100 burpees (a full body strength training exercise that includes multiple moves/positions), 100 swings, 100 throws and 100 mountain climbers.

“I wanted to send workouts that I felt most (if not all) athletes could do at home and have the resources to do so. The conditioning items aren’t hard to come up with, but for the baseball aspect, you have to make the best with what you have,” said Teeters.

“I had several of our athletes send back dry reps (swings without bat), and some send back swings off of a cone they had around the house for a tee. They’re trying to make the best of what they can in a non-ideal situation.”

The challenges issued by both programs have continued. The second challenge for the basketball players included seeing how many three-pointers they could make out of 100 as well as a dribbling drill and two conditioning exercises. The third challenge issued included 100 planks with single leg raises, 100 scissor jumps and 50 in/out, side-side crossovers.

“The response has been incredible. We have 18 high school returners coming back from last year’s program, incoming sophomores through incoming seniors. I did not include incoming freshmen and below, as I did not have contacts for those guys just yet,” said Miller, who noted they had 90 percent completion rage thus far with the returning players finishing all three challenges.

“Incredibly, as we started posting our athlete’s work on our Piketon Basketball social media pages, boys and girls from grades as low as kindergarten and even athletes from other schools began sending videos of themselves completing the challenges. Even our high school principal, Jeff Reuter, completed a challenge!”

Miller said the student-athletes really seem to be enjoying the challenges. Two days after he posted the requirements for the third challenge, Miller said multiple players were asking when he would post the next one. That fourth challenge has been rolled out, asking players to go for the most makes out of 100 on a variety of shots.

The response has been strong for the baseball program as well as more than 30 competed the initial challenge. The second one had rolled out and was continuing through the end of last week. It included 100 sit-ups, 150 fielding reps, 100 throws and 100 jumping jacks.

“Some attack it; some wanted help with items to complete the challenge. Overall, it was very positive. The ones who are taking advantage of the opportunity are the ones who will benefit from it,” said Teeters.

“It certainly shows you more than ‘who’s completing the challenge’ so to say. As a coach you’re always seeing how your players react to adversity, challenges, being out of comfort zones, etc., and this stacks right up with anything they have faced I’m sure.”

Life lessons, although sometimes very difficult, are taught and learned through the ups and downs of athletics.

“Our initial reason for posting these (basketball) challenges to our guys was simply to convey to them that we can’t control the situation that we currently find ourselves in,” said Miller.

“We can, however, control how we react in this moment of adversity. Our goal is always to react to any situation in a positive manner. We want to take a step forward; we want to stay ready. Completing these challenges is nothing more than us consistently reacting in a positive way.”

For baseball, the message was similar.

“Our staff was very clear with them (the players) on our last day of contact how important it is to do the best you can with what you have during this time,” said Teeters. “It’s baseball season — we want our guys to have a glove in their hand, swinging a bat, throwing, and staying in shape as much as possible.”

Although the Ohio High School Athletic Association implemented a no-contact period for student-athletes and coaches to help with the social distancing during the school closure, coaches were highly encouraged to connect with their student athletes in other ways.

“We certainly will be able to tell who has approached this difficult time the right way, and those who could have done a better job,” said Teeters when talking abut the work his players are doing on their own.

“We’re going to see who is taking this serious and who isn’t. We’re documenting workouts, checking in on our guys, and trying to answer any questions they have to the best of our ability. You certainly can pick out the guys who want to lead by example and complete the challenges we are sending — very proud of them.”

Like the basketball program, Piketon’s baseball challenges have filtered down through the lower grades. The youngest baseball player to complete was Max Henry in first grade.

“I’m very excited to see how many of our youth are completing these challenges,” said Teeters. “It’s great to see we have kids in first grade and up completing these, staying active, and trying to improve.”

Improvement, interaction and activity are all components for baseball, basketball, and any sport.

“The reach of social media is the biggest reason for our growth in participation of these challenges,” said Miller. “Kids are obviously yearning for any type of interaction they can get as we remain in a form of isolation. I am happy that our program can not only provide this for Piketon boys basketball players, but so many more.”

In these times of isolation and limitations, it can be hard to find a sense of normalcy.

“I’m certain it has made all of us appreciate a lot of things that we took for granted prior to this,” said Teeters. “I’ve caught myself mentally going through our schedule according to what day it is, what kind of practices we would be running, our pitching rotation ... I could go on. It’s very strange being at home this time of year. The grind of baseball is something I know our staff and players really are missing right now.”

After learning on Monday that the 2020 spring sports seasons had been cancelled, Teeters said that he hated for it to end this way for his Redstreak seniors Connor Galloway and Jacob Mathews.

“For them to have to go out this way isn’t fair, but it’s out of our control,” he said of Galloway and Mathews.

“Our staff really wanted our team and program to focus on being mentally tough. We passed out what I think was an elite handout — something they can reference to for the rest of their life about being mentally tough. We never intended for them to be referencing to it during this virus, but we believe it has helped some of them get through this. At the end of the day we all should be thankful for the time we get to spend on the diamond and never take that for granted!”

There is still hope for summer baseball at the high school grade levels through the Waverly American Legion Post 142 Shockers, which will be fielding both junior and senior level teams if the 2020 season gets played. Time will tell, as there are still many unknowns with the COVID-19 outbreak.

“As of this point, the state is allowing us to have a season. Our original start date was June 1, but that could certainly change,” said Teeters, who runs the program.

“We have many Piketon and Waverly players on our team, and we’re looking for to another successful season at 142.”

Email at jbillings@newswatchman.com; follow on Twitter @ Julie_Billings

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