Pop Warner, high school, college, NFL and CFL.
Chad Owens has been through it all, which is why he has a four-step plan to gradually use full protocols, including sanitized misting for football players before they hit the field. High school leagues have been shut down since March, while organized youth leagues at Parks and Recreation facilities have also been under wraps since the COVID-19 pandemic led to lockdowns in spring of 2020.
Owens participated in a community Zoom forum that included coaches in several sports sharing their plans breakout sessions. The event was hosted by City Councilmember Andria Tupola for a second week in a row.
Owens is one of the leaders of Safe Sports 808, a group that has the backing of Tupola. The first-term council member has taken it one step further with a resolution that has the full backing from her contemporaries.
“It’s under the Utah guideline for (sports spectators) gathering, and the athletes will have (their protocols). The whole, entire City Council is up on it. The mayor (Rick Blangiardi) is in agreement, so we will create a written document that hopefully he can use for our county, and other counties can use it,” she said. “The way that we are going now cannot be the same. It cannot be the same for 2020. It is not beneficial for our youth and for our economy. A lot of what we have to overcome is fear, and we have to be able to answer questions about safety.”
Owens had plenty of interested listeners in the football breakout room, which was open for nearly an hour. His plan, in four parts, covers a span of four weeks. He worked on what he calls “a rough draft” with a youth coach, Danny Pacheco. The plan, Owens added, would make protocols highest priority, and has a timetable for football’s return in March.
“Level one would be the first two weeks,” Owens said. “The NFL had so many injuries because their offseason wasn’t a normal offseason. From a safety perspective, the first two weeks would be conditioning. No pads. T-shirt, shorts. Organized team activity. At the high school level, weight room, strengthening. At youth level, strengthening.”
“The second level would be interdisciplinary workouts,” he added.
“Different position groups, still no contact,” Pacheco noted. “Pod-like drills. No pads, no helmets. Just reintroduce the sport. There are a lot of movements that you cannot mimic in a normal conditioning exercise. Also maybe some one-man sled. Some impact on your shoulders, but only with implements, not 1v1.”
After two weeks, the first semblance of gear.
“Level three, introduce some helmets, maybe top half,” Owens said. “Still conditioning, but with equipment on. With equipment comes more sanitization. Maybe half the practice, get it on, the other half, sprayed down, cleaned, prepare for the next day. Maybe some two-step, redirects, some form stuff starting to happen with shoulders. Still on the sled, but with pads on. Maybe more of the 1-on-1s so the competition level starts to rise, the foot in the ground starts to increase. Weight room, it’s all about conditioning. To me, the injuries happen when there’s not enough conditioning. The de-load, the cut, the stop.”
Owens’ level four is split into two stages.
“Week one, we have full pads. The kids are continuing to condition. Still no tackling yet, but forming up, finishing to the football. O-line and D-line getting more physical. DBs and receivers, more physical. A week of that provides a lot of muscle memory a chance to come back. Our joints and everything are read,” he said. “Week two, in my opinion, this is training camp. That last little bit of football conditioning before you’re ready to compete.”
It all sounds wondrous, the vision of actual tackle football in a highly sanitized environment of rigid protocols. It will happen, Owens said, if all the adults do their part in terms of COVID safety and between-the-sidelines safety.
“As coaches, as mentors, we really have to take control. The whole thing of, blow him up, we have to rethink that. It’s not what it used to be. They’re protecting the players a lot more. The targeting, all that, they’re not going to tolerate it. Even in the previous levels, we can walk through proper tackling, head up, shoulder, rugby style. They don’t use their head. They wrap you up. All those details we can definitely work on,” Owens said.
After all that, intersquad work would follow.
“Controlled scrimmages for a week,” Owens said. “The focus should be lets get to level four. Safety. No cases. That needs to be the new focus for us as coaches and a football community. I know we’re anxious, we’ve been waiting for months. Feels like years, but we have to be patient. For these kids to be out there in shorts and T-shirt in a team environment, the simple things of football is what we’re all missing. The smell of dirty clothes, the cleats, so having successful levels is the ultimate goal.”
Then, the fifth level.
“Interscholastic competition and other league competition,” Owens said.
Pacheco is equally optimistic.
“I think it’ll be good. Just have to set the date on when, if it’s allowed. The sanitization guidelines will be the key to it all. As it gets progressively higher into level four, with contact, more bodies, more sweat, there has to be some type of system in place. That’s what we have to find out, how to keep it safe,” he said.
Owens added more input on specifics of maximum hygiene.
“When a team comes to conditioning session, the kids have to bring a clean change of clothes. This is going to take help from volunteers within an organization. Over the top, (be) excessively clean. That’s why I’m excited about tomorrow. We have an opportunity to show how it can be done. This is our protocol for what we’re doing,” he said of his training group.
The mist spray for sanitization has been used around the world. During the early months of the pandemic, video in Peru showed law enforcement being misted outdoors.
“They use it in a few restaurants. A camera picks up your infrared, takes your face shot, (reads) your temperature. That’s kind of what we have. We’re blessed to have that. Every team needs that. Every kid tested. Fill out the form. Then walk through the mist, go onto the training area on the field,” Owens said.
The hope is that these ideas and actions make an impact everywhere in the state.
“The DOE and the people out there who think organized sports are the worst thing to possibly do, but it isn’t. There’s evidence that there is more spread in the classroom than the sports teams. It comes down to funding and money,” Owens said. “We understand that.”
The breakout session included several people who shared their experience with protocols in sports on Oahu and the Big Island. The session would have run longer, but the time limit expired.
Owens hosts the Star-Advertiser’s “THE CO2 RUN DWN.”