Zoom, other social media sites becoming a way of life for local coaches, athletes

  • Neuqua Valley's athletic department staff conducts a meeting on Zoom.

    Neuqua Valley's athletic department staff conducts a meeting on Zoom. Photo courtesy of Paul Vandersteen

Updated 4/1/2020 1:54 PM

Staying at home or social distancing, high school coaches and athletes hold out hope for spring sports.

Far from twiddling their thumbs, they use a variety of communications platforms to stay fit and connected during the COVID-19 pandemic.


"Look, we're making this up as we go. The last thing similar to this in terms of worldwide impact was 100 years ago," said Waubonsie Valley boys track and field coach and history teacher Kevin Rafferty, whose great-grandmother died of Spanish influenza in the 1918-20 epidemic, prompting his forebears to emigrate from Ireland.

He's one of many to have flocked to Zoom Video Communications, a web-based meeting platform, to reach his athletes. On March 26 Fortune reported that while the Standard & Poor 500 had fallen more than 20% since the stock market's February peak, Zoom Video had surged 50 %.

Rafferty conducted a virtual DuPage Valley Conference indoor track meet on Zoom, inviting his DVC peers. Results were based on times and distances athletes had achieved during the abbreviated indoor season. Batavia coach Dennis Piron devised a DuKane Conference "meet" on Twitter.

A March 25 Zoom confab by the Central Illinois Distance Coaches Summit, as it's called on Twitter, drew 72 participants.

"That's been one of the nice things, instead of going stir crazy we can do some coaches education," Rafferty said.

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For classroom remote learning and disseminating track practice plans he uses Flipgrid.com, a Microsoft platform that uses videos to send info back and forth. Unlike Zoom, which requires participants to be online simultaneously, student-athletes can respond to Rafferty's Flipgrid messages when they can.

"All it is, is the kids take about minute-or-so video and they share them with me and they share them with their teammates," he said.

St. Charles North football coach Rob Pomazak, never at rest, uses several forums to reach the North Stars. He uses Google Classroom with his physical education students.

He's "much more of a meet-in-person kind of guy," but Pomazak knew Zoom Video because his wife, Rebecca, had used it for work.

Rob Pomazak uses it to meet remotely with his defensive coaches, set up a leadership and mentoring program for his players -- and play Scrabble with his wife against another couple.

Pomazak also sends a daily Twitter exercise video to St. Charles North football players and distributes a weekly newsletter to parents. Twitter is crawling with clips of athletes doing drills, of coaches providing instruction.


"And then," Pomazak said, "just good, old-fashioned phone calls."

Grayslake North softball coach Lea Corcoran hasn't seen her players since March 13 and won't until at least April 30. But she certainly keeps in touch.

For her players Corcoran posts hitting and fielding drills plus body-weight and cardiovascular workouts to Teambuildr.com. She links Instagram video demonstrations to the strength and conditioning software.

"The workouts are created to be done in approximately a half-hour, but it's a tough half-hour," Corcoran said.

Camaraderie is more difficult to create than fitness when groups are disallowed. The coach is concerned especially for seniors whose last prep season is on the ropes.

"The best teams are player-led and player-focused," Corcoran said.

To facilitate that, she reached out to seniors such as Faith Standerski, a Northern Iowa-bound, all-state shortstop and two-year team captain. (This season's captains will be chosen during a Zoom Video team meeting.)

The Knights recently started a #WaybackWednesday campaign on Twitter. Players post photos of themselves as young softball players and current pictures -- "to show how far we've come to keep our spirits up," Standerski said.

They'll also post their memories of Knights softball and the requisite TikTok video.

Headed to play in college, Standerski emphasizes the drills and holding teammates accountable. She sees value in the social approach, too.

"I think they go hand in hand," she said.

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