Young BHS team keeping up and in shape in spite of season loss

Jason Warren’s first season as head track and field coach for the Blythewood boys team proved to be all of one week in the field.

Even so, Warren, who coached several sports in North Carolina before moving down to Blythewood to be on the football coaching staff as well as serve as the wrestling coach had a good feeling about his track and field team as it prepared for the spring.

“We had several athletes that we expected some big things out of individually,” Warren said. “Payton Manuel has a really good chance to break the state record in the high jump. We had a lot of athletes who were working hard for some opportunities to succeed this season. Unfortunately we didn’t get to see them.”

That’s because the coronavirus pandemic moved into South Carolina just as all the spring sports were starting off their seasons. One week into the competition, Gov. Henry McMaster announced his executive order March 15, which closed the schools for two weeks.

Nearly everyone involved with a school or a sport had a feeling that all school activity would be suspended at some point. North Carolina had already closed its schools, and while South Carolina athletes were excited about the new season, they were also wary.

The Blythewood boys team was no different, Warren said. And as the Bengals kicked off the season with the Diamond Hornet Invitational at Lower Richland March 7, most seniors missed that event because they were making official and unofficial visits to colleges.

“We talked about it and we made sure that everybody understood what was going on,” he said. “We had a lot of seniors come back to us from their visits and wonder if the Redhawk Invitational (March 14) might be their last opportunity to run before the season ended.”

At the Redhawk Invitational at Westwood, the circumstances hit home. The Bengals and other South Carolina schools got to see individual runners from North Carolina schools take their marks at Westwood just because it offered them one last chance to run in high school.

“The feeling about the season ending was a lot closer,” Warren said. “Everybody started to realize that this was going to be the last time they were going to compete together as a team.”

Once McMaster issued his order, all the awareness in the world of COVID-19’s contagiousness or the extreme precautions taken to slow the spread could not soften the season-ending blow to athletes who trained day and night on the track and in the weight room in preparation for the spring season and the hope of earning gold medals at the state meet.

“A lot of kids thought the season was going to open back up by April 15, and when that date passed, a lot of kids thought the season was going to open back up by May, and that didn’t happen either,” Warren explained about the kids’ hopes and worries dragging through what should have been a strong season. “A lot of them were disappointed at putting all that work in and then not having the opportunity to see it pay off.”

The team’s eight seniors, Isiah Davis, Osaeon Diaz, King Ford, Jalen Anthony, Chase Atkinson, David Patten, Daniel Turnipseed, Ross Isreal, see their high school careers draw to a close. Atkinson, a wide receiver on the football team, moves on to play football for Syracuse in the fall.

As for the rest of the team, they and the coaches are waiting to see how they will be able to participate in summer practices and other activities.

The South Carolina High School League announced recently that it is allowing athletic directors to make their own judgments on when and how to bring sports activities back to high school campuses.

The league published “Guidelines for Return to Play/Practice Team Sports on its website www.schsl.org recently.  Those guidelines outline a return for players to practice and playing fields in three phases. The first phase is loaded in regulations for COVID-19 precautions, while the second and third phases are listed as “to be determined.”

With so much unknown about what will become of the summer practice schedules and fall and spring seasons, all Warren and any other coaches can do is maintain contact with returning players, making sure they’re staying in shape, keeping focused, working out online, and staying together as a team while separated.

“We touch base a lot,” he said. “I talk to a lot of the guys in the football sense, and in the track sense. A lot of them are still working out, still running, trying to get some work in.

“We haven’t really been given any solid direction. Everything’s still sort of up in the air. Hopefully we’ll get some direction soon. We just have to see how it goes. We’ll keep in touch, stay in shape. We can’t meet as a team, but we’re trying to do the best we can until we get back to it.”