“You don’t know when your last play is going to be.”
That is the message McAdory High School head football coach and athletic director Bart Sessions has been giving his student-athletes for years.
“At 16, they all think they are bulletproof. “Last play?” the kids say. “What are you talking about, Coach?’”
Clearly, Sessions was talking about injuring an ankle, knee, a million different things. He was talking about the value of living within that moment and understanding how blessed we are – to coach a sport, to play a sport and to overcome adversity and remain positive.
A native of the Mobile area, he had seen hurricanes wipe out weeks of sporting events. Never in his wildest dreams would he have expected an entire sports season end because of a global pandemic.
A once-in- a-lifetime event that impacted all 416 high school sports programs in the Alabama High School Athletic Association.
Read on, how McAdory High School and Sessions confronted a spring without sports and how they are preparing to return in the fall.
“Cleats left in their athletic locker”
On March 13th, a Friday, the state announced it would be closing schools the following Wednesday, the 18th. Despite the mid-week closure, Sessions and his coaches were hopeful that they would squeeze in a couple baseball, softball and soccer games. They even looked at participating in a track meet.
It was not to be. By the end of the weekend, school was cancelled.
“We can’t even let people back into the building. Literally, half the teams at McAdory have cleats left in their athletic lockers. Books were left in their locker up at the school, things you don’t think about. We haven’t been able to let them back in the school to get their items.”
Moved Quickly Using Technology
With the games and school cancelled, Sessions credits his bright young staff for moving quickly and adopting strategies for keeping their student athletes engaged. At the beginning, no one knew if the season was just temporarily halted or if it was over. Fortunately, McAdory was prepared.
“We use Google Classrooms as teachers already,” added Sessions. “All the students have a Gmail account in our system. In fact, we had already used Google Classroom for the Varsity football team.”
They immediately provided information for strength and conditioning.
Every Student-Athlete’s Situation is Different
How do you keep student-athletes in shape during a shutdown, especially with spring football fast approaching? McAdory’s football program has nearly 150 players at different levels. That’s a lot of players to track, and every student-athlete’s situation is different.
For example, while some kids have a weight bench in their garage, most do not. So McAdory’s coaches push out speed and conditioning programs players can use with little or no equipment.
Once again using technology, the coaches stay in constant contact with their players texting and using Facetime making sure they receive the programs and are carrying them out.
A Virtual Spring Training – Nothing Beats Personal Interaction
When Sessions came to the realization that the students were not coming back for the school year, he decided at that point to start having virtual spring training.
“We started with position meetings, installing our base offense. Now we are in a phase in which we are going through individual specific drills, and we are asking them to get mom or sister or brother to film them sending it to the position coach so they can coach you virtually.”
They haven’t used it yet, but McAdory will use Webex to convene the entire team. Those meetings will focus on character development and team building.
Sessions told us the position coaches have done a great job interacting virtually with the kids, but what you lose these days is the personal daily interaction. If a kid is going through something when you see them in person and you can recognize that. Their personality is a little different, you can’t see that through a computer screen.
He added, “What everybody is losing football-wise is teaching kids unselfishness and teamwork and sweating beside that guy so I can play better on Friday nights because it is not just about me, it is about him too. That all happens between March to August.”
What Could Have Been
It is not all about football too. Sessions knows his football players are lucky. Baseball, softball, soccer and track ended abruptly.
“McAdory’s boys and girls soccer teams had the beginnings of our most successful season ever. Something we have been building toward for 6-7 years. It is over like that. Our baseball coaches literally sent his team home on Friday, and if you are a senior you are done. Never play high school again, for some. Same with softball. You feel terrible for those kids, there is never a way to get it back.”
Next School Year
Sessions’ message about a student athlete’s “last play” resonates.
“One of the great lessons we learn in high school athletics is how to overcome adversity and remain positive. I have been very encouraged by how our staff and student- athletes have responded. All this is going to make us stronger when it is all said and done.”