• Junior high track team not letting school closure keep them from being a team -- virtually

    Editor's note: The author of this article, the district director of public relations, also coaches with the junior high track team. Due to potential conflict of interest, we are disclosing this information to its readers

    jhtftpBellefonte Area Middle School track and field coaches Patrick McDermott, Brit Milazzo and Chad Wiler were only two weeks into practice with their 37-member team when they heard the news that school would be closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

    At the time, the governor’s orders were for just two weeks. So, McDermott, a school counselor at Pleasant Gap Elementary School who works with the team’s throwers, made the decision to hold regular meetings with the team via the Zoom live video platform. They met twice and provided the student athletes with weekly optional workouts to keep the team in shape, so when the season resumed it wouldn’t feel like they skipped a beat.

    And then news came that the school was closed another two weeks and then another two weeks and then a final closure order by the state through the end of the school year. The PIAA, Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association, followed the governor’s guidance and mandated that all sports seasons cancel for the school year.

    Teams are not allowed to physically meet nor are coaches allowed to ask for their members to do required training, but the program still holds its Thursday-night Zoom meetings as a way to keep in touch with the kids who are willing to join — something members of the team, coaches and students, said they enjoy.

    “We’re still a team even if coronavirus tries to separate us,” said Milazzo, an administrator with the district who primarily works with the team’s jumpers and sprinters. “It’s nice to see them and catch up and have some laughs.”

    Their Zoom meetings average about 32 team members each week. 

    In April the coaches decided that if a physical team photo wasn’t an option, then they’d create one the best they could by virtual means instead, and set the April 23-meeting as one where students could wear their track uniforms and smile for a team photo while Milazzo took the screenshot on a computer. This was made possible with help from district instructional technology specialist Arlin Roth who provided instructions for how to take the photo via the Snip and Sketch app. Information about the optional activity was relayed to families before the photo was taken.

    It includes 22 members of the junior high track and field team. Many student athletes could not join due to internet connection issues, but some sent individual photos of themselves wearing their Bellefonte track pinnie. That photo was sent to members of the team, along with BAMS teacher and yearbook adviser Dave Gregor who said it will be part of an end-of-year slideshow to recognize the school year.