Passing, Running and Temperature Drills All Part of Pandemic-Era Pigskin, as Broncos Return To Field

We’re going to check your temperature first, so move your hair, please. 36.2. That’s green, so you’re OK. Next, we’re doing a symptom check. Just say yes or no.

Cough? Shortness of breath? Sore throat? Loss of taste or smell? Chills? Headache? Nausea? Diarrhea? Vomiting?

The Kamloops Broncos discovered on Wednesday our Bizarro World extends to football practice.

General manager Jan Antons reckons the Broncos became the first junior football team in Canada to return to the field since the pandemic hit in March.

KTW was invited to the B.C. Football Conference club’s training session on the grass field beside Hillside Stadium, an event that began with players lining up to receive temperature checks and answer a COVID-19 questionnaire.

“It’s strange,” Antons said. “I was setting up for this today, marking the floor and putting signs up and I was like, ‘This doesn’t feel right.’ “But it’s something we have to do and we all love this sport. It's all about safety."

Sights at the beginning of the first practice of 2019 likely included teammates hugging, wrestling, high-fiving and doing the type of general horsing around that contributes to the enjoyment of team sports at that age.

On Wednesday, in a post-pandemic world, various semi-circles formed and light chatter ensued, some of it revolving around how awkward it is to be worried about staying two metres (six feet) apart.

“It’s really different,” said Ricardo Fisher, a 20-year-old defensive back. “It’s a change of environment. It’s going to take a lot to get used to and I think it’ going to take some time to get used to it.”

The scene was not grim.

Players were smiling and generally thrilled to be back on the gridiron, some expressing appreciation for work done by Antons, who put together an elaborate safety plan that received approval from the provincial government, the City of Kamloops and the Canadian Junior Football League.

“Even with distancing, it’s good for morale to be out here,” first-year head coach Braden Vankoughnett said. “We’ve been waiting to get at it. Social distancing eliminates the closeness. It takes away from the high-fives, the pats on the back. I don’t think we can replicate the camaraderie.

“But we’ve got a good, young group of guys. We’re going to adjust and roll with the punches.”

The Broncos are expected to practise in groups no larger than 25, including coaches. That is no problem for now, as the somewhat informal training sessions in July will feature about 15 to 20 local players and staff.

Staggered start times and separate practising groups will be implemented once out-of-town players begin to arrive in August.

The B.C. Football Conference has marked Sept. 19 as a tentative regular season start date, but requires an increase in the government’s maximum gathering size of 50 if play is to go ahead.

The Sport Activity Chart published by government agency viaSport notes maximum group sizes may increase as of Sept. 1 and limited spectators may be allowed into games.

KTW watched 20-year-old defensive back Scott Poelzer go through the screening process before entering the facility.

“It’s a little surreal,” said Poelzer, who recently finished a 14-day self-quarantine after returning to Kamloops from a European vacation.

“I see a lot of my friends here, a lot of the boys I’ve played with in the past, and it’s going to be a different atmosphere coming into it. Everyone has to maintain their distance and have respect for one another.”

Poelzer’s temperature was normal and he answered no to every query on the COVID-19 questionnaire, earning the green light to enter the facility.

Will players answer honestly if they have felt mild symptoms?

“I’d like to think they’ll be honest, but who really knows,” said Travis Wrabel, a third-year receiver from Kamloops.

Wrabel is among players who are not looking forward to wearing upper and lower splash guards on face masks once helmets come on, but he understands the mandate.

“I don’t know how I feel about the face shields,” Wrabel said. “I don’t know if it’s going to fog up. It’s a little changeup, but you just try to get used to it. I’m super happy to be out here and playing with the guys. It’s good to be back in the rhythm.”

Cones and pads were laid out on the field for drills, each allowing for more than enough space to remain at least six feet apart from teammates.

But slip-ups seem inevitable, a slight invasion of space here or a knee-jerk-reaction high-five there.

The Broncos who attend training sessions understand there is some risk involved and team staff is doing its best to minimize it.

“I’m a pretty good judge [of whether players are telling the truth during the questionnaire],” Antons said. “And the temperature check is pretty good, too.

“If there is any doubt, they will not practise.”

Turf project delayed


The $600,000 artificial turf replacement project at Hillside Stadium, originally slated to be completed by July 23, has been delayed by about 10 days.

Putnam said unanticipated issues with the elasticity of the black membrane underneath the turf is the hang up.

“The crew had to leave for a little while,” Putnam said.

The Broncos practised on the grass field beside Hillside Stadium on Wednesday.

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