It’s been a demanding season already for this football coach

By Earl Vaughan Jr.

To say the 2021 spring football season for Pine Forest High School has gotten off to a difficult start is an understatement.

Tonight marks the third week of the abbreviated campaign, and when it’s over, Pine Forest will have been on the field for a game just once.

That was last Friday when they dropped a painful 12-7 decision to Cumberland County 4-A rival South View.

The Tigers earned a forfeit win over Douglas Byrd the first week when the Eagles didn’t have enough players ready for the game.

Tonight, the Trojans were supposed to face Overhills, but that game has been postponed because of COVID-19 issues at Overhills. The schools are trying to reschedule the contest in April but have yet to settle on a date.

But juggling the schedule is only half the battle for veteran Pine Forest head coach Bill Sochovka. Like his fellow coaches, he’s dealing with the added challenge of keeping his players safe from a COVID-19 outbreak that could do harm to them and the rest of the schedule.

One of the biggest problems is maintaining the safety of  the locker room, a  place that is normally a haven for any athletic team. With social distancing rules in place, instead of a refuge, the locker room has turned into a potential breeding ground for a COVID outbreak.

That’s one reason protocols only allow 10 athletes in the dressing room at a time.

When everyone clears out for the day, Sochovka comes through armed with a large canister of disinfectant to spray everything down.

He takes charge of all the laundry, having to wash uniforms to make sure they are properly cleaned, then hangs them in individual lockers so the players don’t have to rummage through a laundry basket and touch everyone else’s uniform to find their own.

Some players have pieces of individual equipment they’ve purchased for themselves that they take home. The rest goes in the locker, and Sochovka treats it all after each practice. If players have an expensive pair of practice shoes, they’re advised to take them home if they don’t want to get them hosed down by Sochovka and his disinfectant sprayer.

The job will get tougher when Pine Forest has to play road games. Then Sochovka will have to add the bus to the process. Because of COVID, only one player can occupy a seat on the bus instead of the usual two. The players must occupy the same seat going to and coming from a game.

Once everybody vacates the bus, Sochovka can disinfect the buses, but because it’s only one to a seat they need three buses instead of the normal two.

Sochovka’s biggest worry is what the players are doing when he’s not around them. They’ve been good about following COVID protocols at practice and in the locker room, but he’s hopeful they are doing the same at home. 

He warns them about the dangers of too much social interaction with friends, like hanging out at fast food places after practice.

He’s also worried that some players, and possibly even coaches, may want to play so much that they ignore symptoms. “If you don’t feel good, stay home,’’ he said, adding players who are sick risk not just infecting teammates, but elderly family members as well.

“Rule number one, kids have to be honest about protocols,’’ he said. “So do coaches. All it takes is one person.’’

Junior defensive end Jalen McDonald doesn’t consider the COVID protocols like masks and social distancing a headache. He calls them an adjustment.

The one thing he does miss is not being able to join in mass celebrations when the team does something good at practice or a game.

In the dressing room, he says the players have to take turns each day being the first one in and out and able to go home. “We don’t complain much,’’ he said. “At least we’re able to play.’’

He said they focus on getting in and out as quickly as possible so the next group can come in.

“When they go home they need to make sure they are wearing masks, washing hands and maintaining social distancing,’’ he said, “doing the things we can do to prevent it.’’