Plainfield Athletic Department Perseveres During Pandemic

Photographer / Amy Payne

athleticGrowing up, Torrey Rodkey, now the Plainfield High School athletic director, always had a passion for athletics. Though he claims he was never a stellar athlete, he always enjoyed sports. He played and has coached multiple sports, beginning his teaching and coaching career in 1993 at Frankfort High School before moving on to become a varsity basketball coach at Western Boone.

Rodkey’s wife Kellie is also in education. The pair both earned their administrative licenses. In 2009 Kellie was offered a job at Avon High School while Rodkey got an assistant principal job at Plainfield High School (PHS), so they moved their family to Hendricks County. In 2014 Rodkey was asked to become the PHS athletic director. It meant extra work, but he was happy to do it.

“Long hours don’t bother me,” Rodkey says.

He never fathomed the hours he’d put in this past year, however, once COVID-19 entered our lives. Still, the lessons he has always instilled in his athletes were applicable to the pandemic, and perhaps even resonated a bit more than usual.

“We emphasize that it’s about the journey, not the wins and losses,” Rodkey says. “It’s also about the relationships you build and experiences you have, both positive and negative.”

Rodkey calls the past eight months “a roller coaster of unknowns.” Through April and May, teachers and administrators all learned the art of the Zoom call. In July, Rodkey communicated with other athletic departments and health departments, trying to figure out a game plan to keep kids safe heading into the season.

“We were getting guidance and direction from our state and county health departments, and the IHSAA that governs our athletics, just trying to see where we were going to be,” Rodkey says.

In the summer Rodkey got his athletes back into the gym, onto the fields and in the weight rooms, with fresh protocols in place.

“Our participation numbers were really high, actually,” Rodkey says. “After being cooped up for months, our kids were excited to be back.”

Over the summer and even now, students are expected to complete a daily check for symptoms before coming to school, and masks are mandatory.

athleticThe PHS staff ventured into the fall season with their fingers crossed, hoping that once everyone was back on campus they could have a complete season. The season got off to a rocky start with the first football game.

“On Tuesday we got a call from Greenfield-Central saying they couldn’t play because they had a number of kids in quarantine,” recalls Rodkey, who scrambled to find a replacement team.

Thankfully the fall season in general went relatively smoothly, though some rescheduling took place due to quarantines and outbreaks at other schools. Rodkey celebrated the fact that PHS got through girls golf, boys tennis, soccer, volleyball, and football relatively unscathed.

“In the winter we’ll have to be even more careful than we have been in the fall,” Rodkey says. “It’s one thing when you’re outside at a soccer match and socially distanced, but swim meets inside a natatorium are not an ideal condition for social distancing or ventilation.”

Basketball and wrestling are also indoors.

Kathy Mathews, the head athletic trainer at PHS, is pleased with the safety measures the school has implemented to decrease the risk of exposure for their athletes, including extra cleaning protocols, limiting group sizes for practices, meetings and training sessions, and requiring all athletes to provide their own water bottle. In addition, students wear masks in locker rooms and distance when they can on the sidelines. Though it’s impossible to eliminate the risk, PHS is doing their best to reduce it.

“We’re thankful for the outstanding cooperation from our athletes, parents, coaches and administrators,” Mathews says. “The health and safety of the athletes, coaches, officials and spectators is always our number-one priority.”

When the athletes compete they are not required to wear masks, but coaches and kids on the bench are. Though masks may not be comfortable in some situations, the practice has become routine.

“If football coaches can be out in July in 95-degree heat with their face covered, anyone can do it,” Rodkey says. “For now, if we are going to play this is how it’s got to be.”

The administrators’ inability to control what students do outside of school has been a challenge.

“We encourage them to make smart choices and good decisions,” Rodkey says. “We’ve got to be in this together.”

Rodkey says the pandemic situation is a reminder not to take anything for granted, even athletic events.

“I hope people stay vigilant,” he says. “This isn’t going to last forever so over these next few months or whatever it is, we need to continue to stay vigilant or we won’t be able to compete. If we have an outbreak or surge in the numbers in the state, we know the county health department or the state could shut us down at any second.”

In an effort to help reduce the risk of transmission, last fall PHS leaders chose to cancel their annual carnival and parade, and reduce attendance at the homecoming game from 3,000 fans to 500. The sights and sounds may have been different, but one thing remained the same, and that’s how hard the athletes competed.

“Coaching during the pandemic has been challenging, but in some ways it’s been even more gratifying,” says Drew Sheppard, varsity boys soccer coach. “We’ve had to cancel many traditions that make our season special, which I think was hard for everyone at first. That being said, we are more grateful than ever to be out there playing. I definitely see an increased appreciation and excitement from players this season.”

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