Mopping up a mess: High school, college teams adjust to threat of swine flu, colds
The Palisade High School volleyball team was rolling along with a 5-2 record early this season.
On Sept. 24, they defeated Glenwood Springs 3-1 at home. The next day, the Bulldogs received a mid-season scare they never expected.
Palisade Athletic Director Mike Krueger was informed that four or five Glenwood Springs players were infected with the H1N1 virus, what’s commonly known as swine flu.
“The first thing I did was notify (District 51 Athletic Director) Paul Cain and prepare a letter to send home to the parents,” Krueger said. “I explained the situation and told them what to look out for as far as symptoms.”
Krueger then disinfected everything that could have come in contact with the ill players.
“I disinfected all the volleyballs, the equipment, the benches, the coolers, the locker rooms,” Krueger said. “We do that anyway, but I just did it more thoroughly,”
Glenwood Springs canceled its next match against Delta as a precaution. The Bulldogs waited to see if any of their athletes became ill.
“We played on Thursday, and by Saturday and Sunday we had a few girls that started not feeling very well,” Palisade volleyball coach Wendy Mac-Askill said. “It took a toll on us, but I think we’ve come out stronger.”
The Palisade volleyball team wasn’t an isolated case in the Grand Valley.
The Grand Junction High School football team was also bitten by the flu bug. It was never confirmed as H1N1, but the Tigers found themselves down 10 players and a head coach for a majority of one week in early October.
“It’s the worst I’ve ever felt,” Grand Junction coach Robbie Owens said. “I had a 104-107 degree temperature for four days straight and I didn’t eat for four days, so I was miserable.”
Owens said it was the first time he’s had to skip a practice in 25 years in coaching and playing. He was able to make it back in time to coach the Tigers’ game against Cherry Creek that weekend.
“Anytime you get the flu, you get key guys that aren’t practicing, and it hurts you,” Owens said. “So we didn’t share water bottles and still don’t, because we had so many guys sick and we didn’t want to pass it around.”
The flu scares at Palisade and Grand Junction are just a couple of examples of how the flu and H1N1 viruses are spreading. District 51 has had its scares, but the virus is affecting the high school athletics worse in some areas of the country.
Layton (Utah) Christian Academy had to cancel a volleyball and football game in September after about 60 students were unable to attend school because of illness. In Madison, Wis., Mt. Horeb High School had to cancel a football game because only five of 22 starters on the team were well enough to attend school.
District 51 administrators and coaches are doing everything they can to proactively control the virus.
Together with the Mesa County Health Department, Cain put together a policy specifically regarding H1N1 for any District 51 team that is traveling.
“Our point is, if a kid isn’t feeling well, they don’t travel with the team,” Cain said. “If they get sick while traveling, we’ll try to isolate them.”
The policy includes sections advising coaches to travel with disinfectant, trash bags, hand sanitizer and surgical masks and gloves. The policy also stated numerous times that athletes and coaches should wash their hands often.
“We got the policy put together last week, and are going to fully implement it for winter sports,” Cain said. “We have taken more notice of how to try to keep anything like this from spreading.”
The fall incidents with the flu have helped prepare everyone for the winter sports season. Wrestling is one winter sport that always attempts to stay one step ahead of the flu. Laurence Gurule, the head coach at Central, has been taking plenty of preseason precautions.
“I’ve been talking with the school nurse and doing some research,” Gurule said. “When I meet with parents I’m going to see how the parents feel about (the threat of swine flu) and how many have gotten their kids flu shots.”
Wrestling is a sport that has enough to worry about with the transfer of skin diseases like ringworm and rashes. The H1N1 is just another thing coaches and athletes have to watch, especially in a sport with close contact like wrestling.
“I’m putting it in my rulebook that the kids have to shower right after practice,” Gurule said. “The longer they leave that crud on, the more likely they are to come down with something.”
The threat of flu and colds are almost commonplace during the winter season, but the H1N1 virus has made for an interesting fall season.
“I’ve coached in California, been here for a while and I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything like this,” MacAskill said. “There is a heightened awareness.”