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Traverse City Central’s Austin Bills (4) carries the ball this season against Cadillac. Both the Trojans and Vikings are still alive in the 2020 football playoffs.

TRAVERSE CITY — A little bit of forward thinking by Doug Gle set Traverse City Central’s athletes and strength and conditioning program ahead of the coronavirus pandemic.

Gle, who the strength and conditioning coach at TCC, introduced the Trojans to the CoachMePlus app in January before the COVID-19 pandemic sent everyone into isolation. The result made keeping track of his students’ workouts, progress, injury recovery and activity a possibility from afar.

The app allows Gle to send and monitor personalized workouts for each of the nearly 450 students he teaches remotely for his S&C class. Each student starts the day with a health questionnaire that records sleep quality, pain and joint discomfort, mood and energy levels on a scale from one to 10. Gle can then use this data to further personalize recovery plans or workout regimens.

“We really want to maintain and bring out power anyway so we wouldn’t have been doing a lot of heavy lifting anyways,” Gle said of his football athletes in the middle of a playoff run. “We’re trying to keep things light and explosive so sprinting and plyometrics are going to be our go-to until we are allowed back together again.”

In-person competition and practices are suspended through at least Dec. 9 following the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services’ new order, but schools are finding ways to keep their athletes engaged during lockdown.

Practices across the board have changed with many athletes undertaking at-home workouts and online team meetings in order to stay sharp. Trojans head football coach and teacher Eric Schugars said keeping his athletes engaged is the hardest part.

Teams are being forced to review film and have large group meetings over the internet, and it only adds to the challenges.

“They are in a remote learning environment stuck in front of a computer screen, so you have to encourage them to stay active between classes,” Schugars said. “It’s just constant contact and encouraging. Then you hope the relationships and the accountability partners we have on our team and the team leaders will do everything they can to keep everybody engaged and in shape for getting after it again in December.”

The Trojans incorporated more body-weight workouts, yoga, pilates and plyometrics to make sure everyone can get a solid workout regardless of equipment available at home. Schugars and Gle emphasize the importance of sprinting, as the weather still permits outdoor running.

Luckily for some students, they acquired at-home weights and gear during the first sports shutdown and have been able to get right back into the groove.

“We kind of got used to it, so we are used to doing online school then getting our own work in,” TC Central senior football player Austin Bills said. “It’s nothing really new for this year.”

The CoachMePlus app also allows Gle to give remote assessments for his class and track athletes’ progress over long periods of time.

Johannesburg-Lewiston football coach Joe Smokevitch stays in contact with his players via text, Zoom and even SnapChat as he’s in quarantine until Wednesday. The break actually makes it possible for him to coach the Cardinals when they take on Iron Mountain in the Division 8 regional finals.

Smokevitch said many of his players had to work out on their own during the spring shutdown, so it’s nothing new.

“The whole thing is so weird,” Smokevitch said. “But if we get a chance to play, that’s all I want.”

He said one of the team’s focuses this week is making sure student-athletes are keeping up on their online school work so they stay eligible to play.

Cadillac’s volleyball team, which is set to play Birch Run in the quarterfinals Dec. 15, managed to get in a two-hour practice Sunday that started just before news of the newest shutdown broke.

Vikings head coach Michelle Brines thought the volleyball season would finish, given that it only had a week to go.

Initially, she even optimistically hoped the MHSAA would speed up the process once news of another pause spread, moving the quarterfinals up a day to Monday and playing the semifinals and finals Tuesday before new guidelines went into place Wednesday.

“It was like a gut punch,” Brines said. “I was shocked. I thought we had made it through.”

Brines already sent workouts to her players and had done Zoom meetings after watching game film of the Vikings’ opponent.

“It really just throws a wrench into it,” Brines said. “You don’t know what everybody else is doing.”

Grayling football coach Eric Tunney said he’s also given his player workouts for the break, but is worried what will happen when high school boys have to play a game six days after being allowed to practice again.

“That’s going to be a huge hurdle,” Tunney said. “Typically when you have a break, you need 2-3 weeks to come back from that, but it’s doesn’t look like we’ll have that.

Grayling hosts Negaunee for a Division 6 regional final on either Dec. 15 or 16.

The Vikings sported T-shirts with the saying “adapt and overcome” on them all season, and Tunney said that’s what teams left in this year’s interrupted postseason have to embody.

Some winter sports coaches have yet to meet with their teams. The Northwest Conference delayed its practice start date a week after multiple outbreaks within its member schools and were forced into lockdown without any chance to assemble teams.

Schools like Glen Lake, which had its postseason run cut short for both boys and girls basketball in March, were already anxious to get on the floor but must wait for a Jan. 4 start date.

“The whole state was gearing up and playing so our girls were getting nervous and wanted to get in the gym,” Glen Lake girls basketball coach Jason Bradford said. “Once the Governor made her decision it put everybody on the same playing ground and it seems more fair to everybody.”

Bradford doesn’t have the luxury of tracking his teams progress through an app, so he said he hopes his two daughters who are on the team can be an extension of himself and set an example for the rest of the team.

Follow Jake on Twitter @JakeAtnip

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