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Saturday July 11th, 2020 10:17PM

Prep athletes complete Week 1 of conditioning

By Bo Wilson Sports Editor

Coaches across the area were ecstatic to get back to work this week -- like a kid at Christmas. 

Buford coach Bryant Appling said he didn't think the COVID-19 pandemic shutdown would last more than three months, but it did. Heck, no one thought, in the beginning, that it would end up devastating the economy, closing schools, businesses and forcing people into a shelter-in-place order. 

Gov. Brian Kemp lifted the shelter-in-place order last month and things have slowly begun to re-open. And two weeks ago, the Georgia High School Association lifted its ban on athletics, allowing prep athletes to return to campuses across the state to condition only on Monday. 

Sure, there are restrictions. Athletes can only workout with one group. Coaches can only direct one group, and strict sanitizing measures must be taken. But no one cares, because they are back on campus. It's a sign that, just maybe, high school sports are on the way back. Just maybe, the football, softball and volleyball seasons will start on time. 

"Two really good things," Appling said. "First, the fact we got to look at the kids was great. Second, the guys couldn't hide in the weight room. I thought the group as a whole looked great so I was real pleased overall with our conditioning level."

Appling's words were echoed across the area. White County coach Tim Cokely said it's been a "surreal time" for everyone. 

"But at least now, we're moving in the right direction," Cokely said. "This has really given us something positive to look forward to every day. The kids and coaches really needed this."

Rabun County coach Jaybo Shaw said it has "been great getting back."

"The top thing is just being back around the kids and the coaches as a group," he said. "We really missed that."

Lumpkin County coach Caleb Sorrells' spirits were lifted as his players returned ready to work out this week. 

"It has been good to just be around them. It's just been a long time," he said. "We've had a great turnout. Everybody has been on time. It's just been great." 

Cherokee Bluff coach Tommy Jones loved the "energy and enthusiasm" of his players this week.

"It was great to finally get to see our kids again," he said. "It is encouraging that the majority of them stayed active and engaged through the quarantine. You know, I absolutely loved the energy and enthusiasm and was really proud of the way that our staff and players have handled the challenges over the past few months. Hopefully, we will be able to continue taking small steps to normalcy."

Everybody is yearning for normalcy. Coaches and players hope it will happen sooner than later but, for the time being, the main focus is improving the endurance and strength of the athletes.

"The group as a whole was not in great shape as far as conditioning," Cokely said. "You could tell they had been doing some weight work but there was, and still is, a lot of work to do. But again, we're just so grateful to finally be out here practicing."

"The kids looked very good overall," Shaw said. "You could tell they had been working the program. But of course, the conditioning has the biggest issue, especially with it being warmer and not many have been outside for extended periods."

"We've had more throw up in the first two days, and it's got nothing to do with the coronavirus," Sorrells said. "But as hard as it has been, they're all in good spirits. It's been good. One nice thing has been we haven't felt like we're at a disadvantage compared to anybody else. Everybody is in this same, weird, never-done-before boat." 

"Our guys worked hard," Johnson coach William Harrell said. "They did a great job in terms of giving everything they could, but we've got a long way to go. You could tell some had been working out and some that hadn't." 

Jeff Hart contributed to this story.

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