How One New Jersey H.S. Team Is Handling the COVID-19 Pandemic

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How One New Jersey H.S. Team Is Handling the COVID-19 Pandemic

With the 2020-2021 New Jersey high school swimming season rapidly approaching for schools across the state, there continues to be several key unknowns as to how the season may play out.

Several N.J. high school swimming teams have begun or will begin practicing in the next several weeks, and many will have to adjust their practice and training schedules to adhere to COVID-19 protocols put out by their school district, the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association, and the state of New Jersey.

Phillipsburg High School, located in Phillipsburg, N.J., has put in strict protocols for their boys and girls swim team to ensure the safety of their swimmers and coaches.

Typically, the swimmers go through a rigorous training and practice schedule that includes an early morning lift and practice, then afternoon practices. However, COVID-19 protocols put in place by the school have prevented the teams from using locker rooms this season, which will prevent them from holding these morning training sessions this season.

Along with both the boys and girls teams practicing separately, they will also have to practice without many of their teammates for a large majority of their practices. Tracy Herdlein, head coach of the boys swimming team at Phillipsburg, is planning on having her club swimmers practice primarily with their respective club teams.

“I don’t like to lose my swimmers (for practices) because I like to train them, but this is a weird year,” Herdlein said. “When we do our time trials, which is usually once a week, we’ll be able to have the whole team together just so everyone knows who’s on the team.”

With no way of doing any morning lifting, the coaching staff is looking at other ways to get their team back in shape for the season. This includes the possibility of getting a strength and conditioning coach to work with the team during their “drylands,” which is their training sessions.

According to Herdlein, December should be the month that their season would start. No official dates have been released by the NJSIAA at this time, though.

Another big concern for New Jersey high school swimming is how drastically COVID-19 protocols will change the way swimmers compete against each other. Will there be a restriction on how many swimmers can compete in a single heat? How many meets will these swimmers be able to compete at?

 Senior Joe Curry, a member of the Phillipsburg boys team, believes that the level of competition could be drastically affected by these restrictions. The ability of him and his teammates to swim fast times will be more challenging due to the fact that they might not be able to compete with other athletes right next to them.

“We don’t know if we’ll be competing side by side with other teams, which is a big aspect of swimming because it pushes you to go faster in that setting,” Curry said. “We aren’t even sure if we are going to have the big championship meets like HWS, Skyland Conference (Championships), and Meet of Champions, and that’s the point of the year where we get to go fast.”

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Curry is still hoping for a fairly competitive swim season this year,  despite the likelihood of a shortened season. Curry has emphasized the importance of regularly competing against other teams.

“I rather have a competitive season (as opposed to a shortened one) because I think that’s most of the fun getting to compete against people who you don’t train against in practice,” Curry said. “When you practice with people, you pretty much know how fast they are, but the competition you have against other people you don’t train with on a day to day basis is (important).”

Depending on how the pandemic plays out, the NJSIAA could decide to push winter sports to the spring. Many colleges have already decided to have their fall and winter sports season in the spring. Nikki Sirpathi, a senior on the girls team at Phillipsburg, is in favor of this move.

“I would rather have it pushed back to the spring rather than a shortened or half-season,” Sirpathi said. “I don’t know if the school would let us do a spring season just because a lot of kids do winter and spring sports. (We) have no idea how our competitive season (in the winter) will go though, so we will see.”

Rivalries may be at stake here as well. Each year, Phillipsburg has an annual swim meet with rival Easton Area High School, located in Easton, PA. The high schools are less than five miles apart and play each other in every fall, winter, and spring sport. 

However, the NJSIAA has banned any fall sports teams from traveling out of state to compete against another school. Thankfully, the NJSIAA gave Phillipsburg High School permission to compete in their historic Thanksgiving football game against Easton.  However, it is not a guarantee that we will see the two rivals square off in the pool.

“It’s going to be one of those (meets) that is to be determined,” Herdlein said. “I’ve already asked Thomas Fisher (Phillipsburg H.S. athletic director) if he would allow us to swim against Easton, and he said yes. But it’s one of those meets that we would need permission from the state.”

Not only will these athletes possibly miss out on a competitive season due to COVID-19, but potentially the ability to make stronger bonds and memories with their teammates.

“We just made a group chat, and that’s the most in terms of socializing that we’ve done,” Curry said “There’s going to be a lot fewer opportunities (for socialization). Morning practices were definitely a way of us bonding, especially since you getting up early and putting in the work, you do form that connection, which I definitely think we’ll be missing this year.”

2 comments

  1. Kathy Allman

    It’s a nice bonus that the state of NJ’s high school athletic association let’s club swimmers swim with their clubs, yet still compete for the HS team. The Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association does not.

  2. avatar
    Larry

    Must be nice to have club teams to swim with right now! None of the clubs in our LSC except for 1 or 2 even have pools to train in! So darn frustrating.

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