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An Athletic Director’s Faithful Service as COVID Strikes Teams

By Dr. David Hoch, CMAA on December 15, 2020 hst Print

There is little doubt that a high school athletic director’s job is hectic and often stressful. It involves countless tasks and responsibilities that must be handled and usually results in long days and unending weeks.

One of those numerous responsibilities is the game management of the Friday evening football game. Earlier this fall, Larry Herges, the athletic director at Taylor High School in Cleves, Ohio, was in the midst of handling those duties when the unexpected occurred.

At one point during the evening, the athletic trainer observed Herges having symptoms normally associated with a heart attack – chest pain extending down the arm and difficulty breathing – and she called for an ambulance.

After being rushed to the hospital, Herges underwent a battery of tests and was discharged early the next morning. It was determined that excessive stress was the causal agent and a heart attack had not occurred. What caused the massive stress?

For the previous week and a half, Herges dealt with harassing phone calls and email messages from parents who were upset with the district’s COVID-19 procedures for athletes. The parents also were irate with the new ticketing system and let Herges know when they attended every game. While Herges did not create the guidelines or the ticketing approach, he became the visible target. As a result, the stress grew.

After being discharged from the hospital, Herges was back at his desk early Monday morning before the superintendent sent him home for the rest of the week. While this was a change in location, Herges continued to work at home through his computer.

The calm did not last long, however, as he was informed that several players on the boys soccer team had come in close contact with a student in class who tested positive for COVID-19. Due to contact tracing, the team practices and games had to be shut down for more than a week. Herges then learned that a coach’s husband of another team had contracted the virus and she also had to quarantine.

So that the student-athletes did not lose part of their season, Herges decided to jump in and serve as an emergency coach – on top of taking care of everything that would normally be on his plate every day. So much for following the doctor’s advice to “take it easy” for a few days.

A day or two later, the school’s golf coach had to quarantine due to close contact with a family member who tested positive. Herges worked to change the schedule so that the junior varsity coach would be able to cover their matches. In the meantime, the tennis coach had to quarantine as well, which posed one more problem to overcome.

Knowing that this was the last chance for the seniors on the tennis team, Herges again stepped into the void. Unlike some other team sports, they didn’t have to install a game plan with adjustments to the offensive and defensive schemes, and, therefore, they just needed someone to introduce the individual pairings at the sectional match – which lasted the entire day. Herges could do this and take care of the team even though he was overwhelmed with other responsibilities. To accomplish this challenge, Herges got the principal to cover the junior varsity football game, which was also scheduled for Saturday.

Amazingly, the story doesn’t end here. After the football team won its first playoff game in the history of the school, the season came to a crashing halt. COVID-19 hit the team harder than any opponent’s tackle and the season was suddenly over. The volleyball team also lost two of its best players the day before the district championships due to contact tracing.

At the same time, basketball was beginning, and both the boys and girls teams were touched by the virus and also had to take a break. This meant Herges had to spend an enormous amount of time communicating with coaches, athletes, parents and the community as well as postponing contests, officials, transportation and handling all sorts of arrangements. There was nothing normal about this situation. It was stressful!

Just when he thought nothing else could happen, things got even worse as Herges himself began to feel ill. The symptoms were familiar – extreme dizziness, headache, body aches, cough. He was tested for the virus, and while the test result was not positive, Herges summed it up well, “If that wasn’t COVID, I don’t want to know what it was.”

But the show must go on. Armed with his cell phone and laptop, Herges tried to continue leading his program while confined to bed. A little crazy like many athletic administrators around the county, but Herges continued to put the needs of his student-athletes and coaches even before his own health.

Fortunately, Herges didn’t lose his sense of humor as he quipped, “We may have to change our mascot from the Taylor Yellow Jackets to the COVID Jackets!”

We certainly hope that Herges regains his full health and that the stress level is reduced in the coming months. His efforts are greatly appreciated as are all athletic directors, principals and superintendents around the country who put forth Herculean efforts to help their students and coaches have the best education-based experiences possible.