By Kevin Genthert and Humaam Said
In a year of ups and downs, many people looked to sports as their saving grace. The coronavirus outbreak truly became real in a lot of peoples’ minds on the night mainstream sports were shut down. School sports were also cancelled shortly thereafter. As athletes, we Jaguars were devastated to lose an entire season, especially after working hard in the offseason and looking forward to getting better. Spring is typically the start of weightlifting for football, but COVID brought us to the Zoom trend, and we made workout groups who held each other accountable to work out and get better. The end of the 2019-2020 school year took our minds to another place and provided us with other distractions, but sports were still missing.
The end of June gave athletes some hope when Governor Tom Wolf announced new restrictions allowing for voluntary offseason workouts for football. The next day, we were on the field and in the parking lot getting work in for conditioning and some strength movements. As has been the theme with the whole year, restrictions were ever-evolving. At a certain point, we were allowed in the weight room and did not need a mask while getting reps. Then one day, we needed a mask at all times. The following week, we were not allowed inside at all. The Garnet Valley Football program taught us to roll with the punches, keep our heads up, and persevere through everything whether it be recorded Zoom workouts, sprints in the blazing summer heat, or in the middle of the games we hoped to play.
We continued forward with our summer plan and hosted our usual July minicamp. The only things missing were the senior beach trip and the use of indoor facilities like locker rooms. We avoided a lot of contact at practice, but for the most part, things were the same—just more spaced out. Following the minicamp was when plans began to fall apart and reality started to set in. Our yearly overnight camp where we stay at the school and practice for a whole week was cancelled along with our heat acclimation camp. The team remained committed and focused on our outdoor training sessions thanks to Coach Hill, but the future was uncertain, and definitely not bright. Our coaches were diligent and explored every option for alternatives and ways to have some sort of “normal experience”. This included a Jaguar’s Football 7 on 7 league, pitting team members against each other in a two-hand touch exhibition game using our actual defensive schemes. The league began shortly after getting word of no fall season (with a slim possibility for one in the spring). Everyone was disappointed, but the culture and attitude of everyone in the program made sure we were optimistic and grateful for any opportunities.
However, on September 21st, The Central League announced a plan that allowed fall sports to officially resume. As the season began, our old system of contact and practice had to be revamped. Wearing a mask while exercising was difficult, but manageable. Other aspects such as crowding on the sidelines and how we practiced were also changed. New plans were implemented to limit contact between players and create a spread environment that prevented a possible coronavirus outbreak. Daily temperature checks were taken, and screening questions were asked in order to record who was coming into the practice and how they were feeling that day.
Staying “COVID-free” proved difficult for teams playing football. In early October, Downingtown West had their game against Downingtown East canceled. Other teams would have an outbreak and be forced to close down for a while. Luckily, The Garnet Valley varsity team avoided such obstacles to complete the season.
The game experience was quite shaken up. The Moe DeFrank Stadium is known for its spectators, so playing in near-silent conditions was a different change of scenery for us. There is always something exciting about football fans in the stands cheering.
Our first two games were played at home against Lower Merion and Conestoga, respectively. To our surprise, the practice and routine became normal. The games at home were broadcast live to the athletic YouTube channel, and those games ended with a decisive victory for Garnet Valley. Going through our schedules and having a chance to play each of our games meant a lot to us seniors that had our seasons shortened. We’ve never seen each other more excited yet sad to take another bus ride away to dominate another team.
When our final game against Marple Newtown came, we remember feeling a lot of mixed emotions. That night, it was the last time we would play a full-contact sport with this group of teammates for the rest of our lives. It felt surreal that four years had passed; It felt even more surreal that we had grown from all our trials and tribulations. When we won that night, it was the most excited we’d ever seen our team. It was the greatest ending we had in a very messed up world.
The senior group chat that night was hyper with a lot of bittersweet texts. We couldn’t believe that it was all over. That night, we all realized how much we cared for each other and wanted to see each other succeed no matter where we went. We saw so many messages (including our own) saying the words “I love you guys.” Hearing that the people around us truly care put a great seal on the story that we created at Garnet Valley—a story of misfit 9th graders growing up to become better people. A group of idiots that would have never met outside the sport coming together to form a strong bond that will last a lifetime. We’ll always miss Garnet Valley Football for the countless memories that were made.
The hardest part of loving something is eventually letting it go, and to the seniors that finished this season, we learned how to let go of the most precious thing we had. When the season finished with the chaos of the world still rampaging, we created happiness and positivity in our last game together. The 2020 Garnet Valley Football Team will now be known for the group of seniors that were able to show leadership between each and every one of them, ignoring the noise of a tumultuous world around them, and execute to perfection. Four years could not have been better spent, and we speak for everyone when we say it’s been a pleasure to put on the garnet, black, and white.