Finally, sports has come back to The Times' coverage area.
Several local football teams held workouts this week for the first time since the COVID-19 outbreak shuttered schools in Alabama and shut down the sports world in March.
Addison, Cullman, Good Hope, Hanceville, Vinemont and West Point resumed activities earlier this week, while Cold Springs, Fairview and Holly Pond will get going next week.
The programs were excited about the return to a semblance of normalcy despite facing the hurdles of maintaining guidelines set forth by the Alabama Department of Health.
Some of those include social distancing, equipment sanitizing and wearing masks as needed.
Those challenges, however, haven't dampened the palpable buzz for sports-starved programs.
"Obviously, it was great to see the kids and interact with them and the coaches," said second-year Cullman coach Oscar Glasscock. "We've been in isolation for a long time. I was very happy. We got right back in a groove immediately. The guys adjusted to the guidelines, and we didn't miss a beat."
Glasscock isn't the only coach thrilled to be off and running.
"I knew I was looking forward to it, but I didn't realize how awesome it was going to be to finally get together," Good Hope coach Alan Scott said. "The turnout and energy have been good. We had 52 on Monday and 50 on Tuesday. We aren't trying to build Rome in a day, though. We realize they've been gone for a while. We just made sure our groups and spacing were good. The main emphasis for us is do the right things now and play our part in making sure we have a football season.
"We don't want there to be another outbreak, so we're going to do what we can to eliminate that."
Workouts around the county have been structured to accomplish just that.
West Point formed a trio of groups — experienced skill position players, experienced offensive and defensive linemen, and inexperienced underclassmen — for its workouts, which include a rotation of three different stations — weight training, speed and conditioning drills, and basic fundamentals.
Each rotation lasts around 30-40 minutes and is staffed by two coaches.
Social distancing guidelines are practiced and preached throughout each drill.
That hasn't always been easy, according to Maroon and White coach Don Farley.
"The biggest challenge is reminding all the kids, because it's football and because it's their general behavior, to socially distance," he said. "Signing in (to start workouts) has been an obstacle, too. We check temperatures, and guys are staying away from each other, and we're washing hands and all our equipment. We've got Germ-X out on the field as well, and that's been a little different."
The safeguards, however, haven't come at the expense of intensity.
"It's one thing to meet on Zoom, but it's another to be face to face and get to interact with the kids," Farley said. "You can tell guys are glad to be back. They've been cooped up, and they were ready for those weight room doors to open. You could tell which guys stayed active and which didn't."
Some of the changes, meanwhile, have been unexpectedly positive.
For Hanceville coach Cody McCain, he’s hoping to apply those moving forward.
“The different coaches and players of each sport – baseball, basketball and football – are all working together and helping each other out,” he said. “That’s helped keep kids in smaller groups when we are rotating. It’s something I’d like to continue doing in the future. It’s kept things efficient, and we’ve been able to pack everything in in about 90 minutes.”
All in all, the return of football-related activities has been welcome news for coaches and players alike.
And although the sports world isn’t quite yet back to normal, this week’s workouts have at least offered a light at the end of the tunnel.
One that will eventually – and hopefully – illuminate the first step toward a successful 2020 season.
“We’re just glad to be back,” Addison coach David Smothers said. “It’s nice to be around the kids once again. The unknown of what’s going to happen is different, and it’s going to be interesting to see just how everything shakes out. But the kids were glad to get back into their normal routine.”