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ISA focuses on safety as interscholastic sports restarts; athletes look forward to season

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After a nearly yearlong break, sports are finally going to resume in the third quarter.

Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero last week signed an executive order transitioning the island to Pandemic Condition of Readiness 3. The order also authorizes sports to resume with certain restrictions based on public health safety guidelines.

A number of schools, however, have a lower-than-usual number of student athletes. Many athletes living with older grandparents and other at-risk family members have decided to avoid sports this quarter for the sake of the safety of those around them.

Al Garrido, the acting sports program coordinator for the Guam Department of Education Interscholastic Sports Association, remains optimistic about the upcoming season, which is expected to begin March 1.

The new season will include cross country, boys and girls tennis, girls softball and boys and girls volleyball.

"We're hoping that there will be the same athletes, the same type of coaches and the same type of officials," he stated. "We're expecting the level of competition to be just as good as last year."

Garrido said ISA has prioritized the well-being of the athletes during this pandemic.

"We're following all the rules and guidelines that the Department of Public Health and Social Services has set," he said. "(We're) also following what the governor's office and the Guam Department of Education wants us to do ... which includes daily temperature checks for participants, screening questions for every athlete, the wearing of masks, social distancing and constant sanitizing."

To further prevent the potential spread of COVID-19, many coaches have begun dividing teams into "pods" of 4 to 5 people during practice. This is done to reduce the amount of people students come into contact with.

'Excited to be back'

Despite the limitations, the return of sports has generally been met with enthusiasm among those student-athletes who are participating.

Jordan Baden, a sophomore at St. John's School, is enthusiastic about competing in the new cross country season.

"I'm excited to be back running with my team and getting into shape," he said. "This cross country season is the first bit of normalcy since quarantine began last year."

Kamryn Thompson, a junior attending Guam High School, shared her experiences with beach volleyball practice so far.

"My experiences so far with beach volleyball practices have been good. I thought COVID-19 would get in the way and not let us do much during practice, but I feel like our time is very well spent," Thompson said.

She said COVID-19 regulations are enforced during practice.

"All of the coaches are doing the best that they can to keep us all safe by maintaining our 6 feet, sanitizing the equipment and keeping our masks on when needed," she said.

Though games will likely begin on March 1, parents and fans will not be allowed to watch games in person as it was decided that such large gatherings would be a health risk to both athletes and audience members. Instead, plans have been made for select volunteers to livestream the game so that parents can cheer on their student-athletes from the safety of their own home.

Transitional period

While this quarter will be a difficult transitional period for everyone, Garrido offered a message for concerned parents and those weary of the new systems implemented:

"We're really taking care of the student-athletes," he said. "All the coaches know that they are now the front-liners for the children; they're not just coaches anymore. They're the ones that have to make sure that the practice is safe, that the games are safe. As a matter of fact, it's a community effort. We really do want everyone to be involved in making sure that this happens. And we do know that it's different, so we're asking that everyone just accept the difference for now."

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