Photo courtesy of Metro Creative 

With the spring sports season tangled up by the statewide COVID-19 shelter-in-place order, local coaches are staying connected to their squads the only way possible: through the virtual world.

“I try to send them something every day to say, ‘Hey, I’m here for you,’” said Janet Hannigan, head coach of the Heritage boys’ volleyball team. “‘Here is a workout idea or video or link to a Twitter page.’”

Spring athletic contests and then in-person contact among teams ground to a halt earlier this month amid the escalating pandemic, and it’s unclear what lies ahead.

The California Interscholastic Federation (CIF), the state’s high school sports governing body, has put off a ruling on the season’s future until at least April 3, pending further advice from local, state and federal government agencies.

The sports landscape grew even more ruffled in recent days, as California Governor Gavin Newsom issued a March 20 statewide shelter-in-place order with no designated end date.

About the only constant in this ever-evolving whirlwind of recent change is coaches’ use of virtual tools to connect with their teams.

But even that is anything but normal, as coaches try to keep their squads in shape and their emotional well-being in check during these uncertain times.

“We sent everyone a home workout, and knowing my players the way I do, they are all scared and champing at the bit,” said Heritage baseball coach Kevin Brannan. “So I feel it’s important to send an occasional text or email, just keeping their spirits up as best we can under the circumstances.”

Amid the uncertainty, coaches are getting even more creative than usual to reach their athletes.

Heritage football and golf coach Dave Fogelstrom took to Twitter, promising players the opportunity to win an In-N-Out Burger gift card if they post photos of themselves working out, and Liberty golf coach Curtis Cunningham used his cell phone to record an uplifting message to his school’s athletes.

“Nobody has seen anything like this, that I can remember,” he said. “You guys, just remember to take it seriously; get your workouts in at home as much as you can, use YouTube, whatever technology you have; stay in shape. Just understand this is bigger than our sports seasons; it’s bigger than our school year.”

As for the athletes, they have responded well.

A peek at Twitter reveals responses to Fogelstrom’s burger challenge to get his kids moving, and a slew of other local athletes working out on their own.

Hannigan also revealed positive results when asked about her squad this week, listing a handful of her athletes’ recent activities, including hiking, biking, running, walking and viewing game and instructional videos.

But inevitably these days, coaching and student-athlete adjustments come with persistent feelings of sadness and uncertainty about this season’s fate.

“Every single tournament director has contacted me and canceled for 2020,” Fogelstrom said. “I feel awful for these guys, especially my seniors. Unlike the (National Collegiate Athletic Association), these kids will not even have a chance at getting a year back.”

Deer Valley boys’ volleyball coach Steve Evans agrees.

“We were having a great season until the virus happened,” he said of his 11-3 squad.

For now, coaches said all their players can do is continue to virtually prepare and hope that someday soon their digital world becomes real again.

“I said to my players today, ‘You have to take this like we are still going to have a season,’” Hannigan said. “‘Let’s think like we are still in season until someone tells us we are not.’”