Shenandoah athletic director Todd Salkoski has added new tasks to his responsibilities he never thought he would have to perform.
Wednesday, he was walking the bleachers at the school’s football stadium, tenuously scheduled to host Heritage Christian on Aug. 28.
He was not checking the sturdiness of the handrails or eyeballing the chalk lines on the field. Instead, he was measuring 6 feet between seats to calculate how many spectators he could allow to watch the Raiders compete under the Friday night lights later this fall.
This is because words like “coronavirus,” “social distancing” and “contact tracing” have become a part of the everyday lexicon for high-school athletic directors as they try to navigate the turbulent waters of an ever-changing pandemic sea.
And, according to one of Shenandoah’s coaches, Salkoski has been in his office every single day since the crisis for high-school athletics began back in March.
The changes to the job description are not novel to just Salkoski. All ADs are checking health department websites, watching for trends and instituting IHSAA guidelines designed for the safety of the student-athletes, the coaches and fans. They are watching as events unfold at other school corporations across the state and checking their schedules to see how their own school might be affected.
They are watching for pandemic hotspots, mindful of whether or not to welcome a team in from such an area or to send their own students into a region where the COVID-19 infection rate is higher than it may be at home.
These are not easy decisions, and they weigh heavy on a person’s mind.
And school administrators are not strangers to making life and death type decisions. They just aren’t used to making them in July. Typically those are reserved for the months of December, January and February when heavy snow or icy roads precipitate those choices.
All of this has been added to their already heavy workload of setting up schedules, hiring coaches, managing budgets, meeting with their conference and county compatriots, and the list goes on and on.
If there is one thing we have all learned during this year of the coronavirus pandemic, it is information changes weekly, daily and sometimes hourly. Imagine performing all the job duties listed above, only to have the data change and it all has to be adjusted or scrapped all together.
I always assumed, while watching the events of the last four months unfold, the job of the athletic director — really all school administrators and teachers as well, but, hey, this is the sports page — was going to be an unenviable one. There are some who will be pleased with decisions that are made, and there will be others who simply won’t understand those choices are being made with the best interests of the students in mind.
After spending more time in recent weeks speaking with many of the gentlemen in the area who hold that title, I must now admit I was wrong.
It is far more difficult than I surmised.
Fall sports are coming, the IHSAA has decreed it so. But the games and matches will look different. There is no way they won’t. There are also no guarantees football teams will play a full nine-game schedule or we’ll make it through the entire 2020-21 school year without a pause or stoppage in play.
Chad Smith at Pendleton Heights used the word “flexible,” while Liberty Christian’s Jason Chappell said “nimble” when describing how ADs would have to approach the coming season.
Those would both be good ways for all of us to look at the season of sports ahead.