The high school fall sports season kicked off last Friday when football, field hockey, soccer, volleyball, and cross country teams opened practice. With each new season comes a new set of challenges. We spoke with some local coaches about how they prepare their teams for the season on the field and in the classroom.

Every team prepares for a new season differently. Though, for most of the teams hitting the fields and courts across the first state this past week, the preparation for next season started the day last season ended.

In the case of the Dover Senators’ football program, their motivation to get going and improve immediately comes from their performance last season. The Senators went to the state semifinals and came within an overtime quarter of beating the eventual state champs Salesianum.

“We evaluated how far we advanced last season,” said Dover Head Football Coach Dante Jones. “We looked back on how we worked last off season and didn’t reach our goal, so this off season we put in twice as much work.”

Staying in the kind of shape needed to compete at a high level in high school sports is now a year-round struggle. That’s especially the scenario for the Caesar Rodney Cross Country team, who rely heavily on communication between captains and returnees to include newcomers into their off-season program. The work done during the off season not only helps with the runners’ stamina but helps build the kind of comradery that can solidify a team.

“By the time I get to see the team when camp opens, they’re prepared,” said Caesar Rodney Cross Country Head Coach Michael Tucci. “The athletes have a summer running plan that they follow, and the captains organize informal ‘captains’ practices’ which gives team members a chance to run together, have some preseason bonding, integrate new members, and start to create the team chemistry that has been paramount to their past success.”

Like the CR cross country program, Dover Boys’ Soccer Head Coach Paul Booton leaves the onus of offseason preparation to his captains so that when the preseason begins they’re ready to go.  The Senators hope being ahead of the game will help them improve upon last year’s 10-4-1 record.   

“The captains hold off season workouts,” said Booton. “When camp opens we try to get as many touches on the ball as possible.”

Being prepared from day one of camp is of great importance for a soccer team, as being in tip-top shape is a must to compete against the kind of competition that resides within the rest of the state. So, it’s no surprise that Darrell Gravatt’s Caesar Rodney Riders boys’ soccer team works on all facets of the game as the Riders hope to stay among the elite after they advanced to the second round of the state tournament last year.

“We train all aspects of the game including offense, defense, set plays, up a goal, down a goal, and penalty kills,” said Gravatt. “We try different people in positions and try to be ready for the various scenarios that arise through a season.”

Every season comes with expectations, whether they are to exceed last year’s performance or bounce back from a tough season.  However, academics are one expectation each athlete must meet if they hope to make a difference for their teams this fall.

Each coach sees it as their responsibility to give each of their players the opportunity to thrive in the classroom the same as they would on the field of play. Student/athletes are given those opportunities in various ways, be it a study hall organized by the team, or the knowledge that help with academics is waiting not only in the classroom but also on the sidelines.

“We have in place a daily study hall program,” said Jones. “At the conclusion of the school day our students go directly to our mandatory hour of study hall. We don’t just talk education we place a major emphasis on our players being student/athletes.”

Some student/athletes don’t need the extra push to focus on their studies. The motivation to stay on the field is enough.

“The classroom part is easy, most of the team motivate themselves academically to thrive and succeed,” said Tucci. “Plus, they know the importance of grades, as report cards typically come out right before States, and none of them want to miss that. The team knows that we as coaches can and will assist them should they have any academic concerns.”

For others it’s about juggling responsibility, and earning the right to wear the uniform not only by their play on the field but how they apply themselves in the classroom.

“The players are reminded constantly,” said Booton. “In order to have the honor of representing their school on the field, they have the responsibility of representing their school in the classroom.”

In the end, student/athletes hold the control over whether they meet academic standards or not. However, each school has instituted their own systems to make furthering their education more than just a qualification to play sports.

“CR soccer stresses a quest for excellence both on the pitch and in the classroom,” said Gravatt. “We ask student athletes to do their best in school and in sports. Character and sportsmanship are integral in our philosophy of training.”