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Artesia High football hoping to resume on the field activities by early November


By Loren Kopff • @LorenKopff on Twitter • September 30, 2020

In a normal season, the Artesia High football team would be in its bye week, having played six games before preparing for its next contest against Westminster High, then wrapping up the regular season with three 605 League contests. But it’s been over six months since the world was hit with a pandemic that altered the way things had been done.

Still, high school teachers have to teach, coaches have to coach, and Don Olmstead is no exception to that rule. Entering his fourth season as the head coach for the Pioneers, Olmstead, like many coaches, has had to change his routine and preparation for the upcoming season. But he is optimistic to get his players on the field sooner than later.

Once the season is over in late November or early December, depending on how far the Pioneers advance in the CIF-Southern Section playoffs, there’s little time for everyone to get a breather before the returning players begin their weightlifting routine. The players get about an hour and a half to an hour and 40 minutes to lift weights every day, which has helped build the program, according to Olmstead. He said the players are doing about 10 reps against the bar, but once January arrives, the players are hitting the weights hard.

“We really don’t start lifting the ball, really, until the end of April or beginning of May,” Olmstead said. “That’s when we start spring ball. Usually we do four days a week; I think last year we did three days a week. We extended it a week but did we went one less day per week.”

He added that after the spring game, the players are usually off, which is the mandatory “dead period”. That comes in June, usually around the time that school is out of session. Following the Fourth of July, summer camp takes place along with passing league on Saturdays. They also throw every Tuesday and Thursday.

During the weightlifting period from December to about March or April, Olmstead is working on fundraising and the next season’s non-league schedule. Most of the time, coaches schedule two-year, home and home contracts with other teams. But every year, there are times where teams need to fill a spot or two that will not be a two-year deal. In fact, Olmstead remembers that in 2018, during the postseason in which the Pioneers advanced to the Division 12 championship game, he was already getting calls from coaches to see if Artesia wanted to play them for the 2019.

But even with COVID-19, it hasn’t been all that bad for Olmstead as far as getting ready for the 2020 season, which has turned into the winter and early spring of 2021.

“Up until July, I really haven’t been working on football [activities], to be perfectly honest because I have family stuff,” Olmstead said. “[My wife and I] are both teachers, so the end of school last year was survive and advance. The spring was a balancing act of keeping your sanity.”

Olmstead added that there were other things going on in his personal life that kept his mind off football since the pandemic started. He got to spend more time with his wife and two children than he normally would. But on the football side of things, Olmstead didn’t do too much. He would meet with his coaching staff once a month just to check in and see how everyone was doing.

“I basically told the coaches we can’t really do anything because I’m not accepting liability,” he said. “We just have to sit and wait for the county and the [ABC Unified School] district people’s guidelines for us. And so, school started [online] and I’m able to see the kids every day, except for Wednesdays, for about an hour.”

Olmstead was quick to say that there is a strong possibility that everyone starts playing football when the virtual teaching is still ongoing and believes that one of two things will happen.

“Either we’re going to keep shutting down, or we’re going to open up at some point for football and all the sports,” he said. “Everything goes as planned, all the schools do the correct protocol that they need to do. We open up a little more to where we can get 50 kids together and by the time we get to December, maybe we can follow the normal calendar that the CIF put out.”

That calendar, which was put out on July 20, calls for football practices to begin on Dec. 14, the first game to play on Jan. 8, the last game to be played on Mar. 12 (with no bye weeks) and the divisional championships to be held on Apr. 9 or 10 with the state championships the following week.

However, a possible problem he questioned was that if things are turned the other way, how long would it take for the numbers to get back down before they could start the process all over. Olmstead met with other coaches on the night of Sept. 22 regarding that issue because more and more Los Angeles County high schools have begun their football practices. That meeting was held because Artesia principal Sergio Garcia got the ball rolling, according to Olmstead, to point out that other districts were allowing their schools to open up again and he wanted to know what Artesia had to do to get its athletes back on campus.

He said the next step for Artesia is picking a date, probably the middle of October, to submit its paperwork plan to the district. After that, the board would have to approve it and of all goes good, Olmstead is targeting a date somewhere at the end October or early November to get the players back on the field and practicing in small groups.

“I personally am one that obviously believes the virus is real and it’s a very big concern of mine, personally and of the kids,” Olmstead said. “With that being said, I think we can follow the guidelines to have small groups. I already told my coaches the first time we meet, you’re probably going to have 10 kids and that’s your 10 kids.”

For an optimistic time frame, Olmstead believes he needs about a month of physical conditioning and another half a month or so for his players to be in football shape, i.e. working out with pads and helmets and tackling drills, by the time the Pioneers begin the season at Garden Grove High on Jan. 8. That’s why getting an answer from the district is paramount.

Since there’s no true way for Olmstead to monitor every player right now to see if they are doing what needs to be done to stay in shape for when they can return to the field. Olmstead sees it as it’s their career and has a message to his team.

“I have my career; I’m a teacher and a football coach,” he said. “I am fulfilling my job as a football coach to the best of my ability and as a teacher. I need you to do that as a student-athlete to prepare yourself so when we do open up, you’re ready to go.”

Olmstead also says his players are eager to start and want to get out and do something and they like going to school and the daily routine, which they are not in right now. Other than that, there really hasn’t been much feedback from the players to Olmstead as far as when they can return to practice.

At least three Artesia players are not returning because of the current situation and another player transferred out. Olmstead said the freshmen numbers are good, but the rest of the program has been impacted, especially the ones whose parents aren’t working or are working reduced hours because of the pandemic.

If all goes well in terms of beginning the football season in January, the Pioneers are slated to play nine games instead of 10 games with the open date coming after the fifth contest. Olmstead said he doesn’t think he’ll seek that last non-league foe. He has received a few inquiries from teams that he doesn’t think would be a formidable matchup. Artesia had to cancel a game against a team from British Columbia once the pandemic hit and that opponent has also pushed its schedule back to that of the CIF-SS.

“It potentially could still work,” Olmstead said. “It’s still open on the CIF website. I just don’t want to get anybody, kind of a two-parter. One, I don’t want to play anybody really good two games before league. That doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me. The other part of it is we might want that as a bye week.”

He continued to say that if the team isn’t able to start practicing until Dec. 14, and he wants to get the kids in shape, a break after the first five games of the season would be what the Pioneers need heading into 605 League action.

In closing, Olmstead stated the obvious; that everything has been completely different and that everyone is learning how things need to be different. He said that it’s going to be a big challenge, and even though they’ve been meeting virtually all summer, he has the players on his mind.

“At least we are there when the kids that we felt needed somebody to talk to,” he added. “Maybe they were bored because their parents are really strict in not letting them out of the house, or maybe they were asking about when we’re going to practice. We were there basically all summer available for them at their disposal. I think that’s where we tried to create relationships that we didn’t think we necessarily had.”


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