Coaching through a pandemic

Lily McGuire and Jeremy Kornfeld

An empty Kehler Stadium (Photo by Caroline Collins )

On May 4, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy made the decision to keep students at home for the rest of the school year. Consequently, this also meant the end of any hope athletes had at a spring sports season. For the first time in WHS history, there would be no spring teams competing for a Union County Championship, no senior days, and no memorable spring seasons. Athletes, particularly, seniors, have been devastated by this news, but how are the coaches of these sports feeling? 

Physical Education Teacher William Wertheimer, who would have had his first season as the head coach of the boys lacrosse team this spring, said he was, “shocked, there’s no other way to put it” when he first heard about the cancellation of his season. Wertheimer had high expectations for this year’s team. “We planned on going to the county finals and the state sectional finals and so on and so forth,” he said.

 However, this has not stopped him from keeping in contact with his players. “Every day, except Friday, is a [WebEx] meeting, and we talk about what we all are struggling with… if the kids want to talk about something besides lacrosse, I try to help them in any way possible,” he said. 

Wertheimer has also acknowledged seniors who lost their last season: “Over our social media accounts I’m doing a Senior Spotlight. It highlights them and where they’re going next year, things they’ve done at WHS, their plans for the future, and any advice they would give to a younger lacrosse player.” 

Wertheimer also hopes that his team could possibly meet face to face again before the seniors leave for college if Governor Murphy allows that to happen.

Similarly, Girls Lacrosse Coach Abigail Cohn felt “sad and upset” when she first heard the governor’s decision. She said, “Being a coach during this pandemic is definitely a challenge but has been more fulfilling than I expected.” 

Cohn has kept the girls lacrosse team active. On weekdays, players complete team workouts from their captains and coaches, with yoga on Tuesdays through Zoom meetings with an instructor. The girls lacrosse team has also been doing a Senior Spotlight on their Instagram page similar to the boys team.

This pandemic, and ‘lost’ season will serve as a constant reminder of the seniors who never got to play their last season and they will all work extra hard with them in mind.”

— Girls Lacrosse Coach Abigail Cohn

Cohn has hope for the future and is excited for next season. “This will motivate all of the players that I will have next season to not take a single second on the field for granted, in turn, pushing them to perform at their best. This pandemic and ‘lost’ season will serve as a constant reminder of the seniors who never got to play their last season and they will all work extra hard with them in mind,” Cohn said.

Girls Track and Field Coach Joseph Berardi said that being a coach at this time is challenging, especially when it comes to communicating with athletes, but he explained how he uses technology to his advantage. Berardi posts workouts on Google Classroom and has met with athletes through Google Meet. Similarly to Coach Werthheimer and Coach Cohn, he also honors seniors on Twitter and Instagram with Senior Spotlight posts. 

Berardi said, “They’re not going to get to race this spring, but every training block builds off another one.” He encourages his athletes to continue training in order to stay in shape, especially for those who will be working with him during the cross country season in the fall. He has told members of the team to “keep their focus, don’t lose their edge, stay disciplined, invest in the sport, and eventually it will pay off.” 

Berardi said, “I hope this experience will make [the athletes] realize what’s important in life and that our team is kind of like a family.”

WHS Athletic Director Sandy Mamary said that the cancellation of spring sports was not surprising to her and she understood that having spring sports seasons proceed is “not worth the risk for any of us to get sick.” Mamary anticipates changes in WHS sports in the future and sees disinfecting equipment as her biggest priority. 

She sympathizes with athletes and coaches who have lost their season. Mamary said, “I know that [athletes] need to get out and express [themselves], and then when that gets taken away from [them], that’s a tough thing.” 

She has hosted virtual meetings with spring coaches and is confident in her coaching staff who are “all very, very bright” and comfortable enough with technology to help their teams through this difficult time. She also is focusing on virtual registration for fall sports which can be found on the Athletic Department section of WHS’ website.

Assistant Principal and Head Varsity Football Coach Jim DeSarno is prepared for whenever he can hold practices with his team and has put into place many plans depending on when that start date is. DeSarno was “heartbroken” upon hearing about spring season cancellations, as he himself is a huge sports fan who was looking forward to watching WHS spring teams play. He was also excited to coach his daughter’s seventh-grade softball team. 

DeSarno said that during this tough time, he thinks “everyone needs to use this experience to make them stronger, and grow from it.” Just like his fellow fall-season coaches, DeSarno is eager to see his team together again, whenever that may be. 

Whether you are a coach, athlete, or fan, everyone is sorely missing the atmosphere of athletics at WHS. However, as Mamary stated, it is important that we all “keep the faith” as we wait for sports to return.