Mid-to-late August is a key period for local high school coaches trying to get their student athletes in superior athletic condition. But the smokey, smelly air in the region isn’t helping their cause.
“We do not do our full-blown conditioning the way we would if the air was good,” said Spanish Springs football coach Scott Hare, whose Cougars season opener is just eight days away. “We do not change the plan much, we just keep an eye on the players … We keep conditioning short and sweet, five-minute periods of quick movements and then slow it down so they are not breathing hard for a long time.”
Reed football coach Ernie Howren admitted his staff has been monitoring player conditioning as well.
“We are definitely checking,” he said. “We’ve been fortunate that practice hasn’t been affected too much by the smoke. But we haven’t done any sprints or conditioning at the end of practice.”
When teams reach the early evening hours, around 5 p.m., that is when the blanket of grey smokey haze is at its worst, hanging over the valley floor. Washoe County’s Air Quality Division keeps tabs year round on the air over Reno-Sparks. The agency’s daily updates have continually highlighted the lower air quality over the last week and warned people with sensitive breathing habits to reduce prolonged or heavy exertion and to spend more time inside.
That means student-athletes with asthma or other respiratory issues are facing a bigger challenge than others.
“The girls have been able to practice at Lakeridge, but with some difficulty for those players with asthma,” said Reed girls golf coach Danielle Fleiner. “So we did cut a few practices a little shorter than normal. We do hope the fire gets under control and clears up in the air so the players can practice and play without any other challenges besides conquering the course each day.”
Sparks boys soccer coach Frank Avilla said the air quality is something coaches have a responsibility to monitor when working their athletes into shape. However, he added the smokey skies from wildfires are hardly a new issue to northern Nevada.
“If you’re coaching in northern Nevada, with all of the adverse or odd weather we see each year, it’s a must to be flexible and ready for anything,” Avilla said. “The smoke has put us on alert and we’ve had to move our practice plans around, but we’ve been able to stay on schedule. Since we’re doing two-a-day practices, we’ve been able to do most of our running at our 6 a.m. practice and lightening our conditioning when pollution levels are up during our evening sessions.”
At Spanish Springs, Hare said his biggest concern is his athletes sleep habits. He wants them getting good rest during preseason camp and he believes too much conditioning in the poorer-quality air, won’t help his players get good rest.
“I want it to clear up because what I am hearing from my guys and my own family is that it is having more of an effect on sleeping patterns than during practice.
“I have held back because I have seen that some kids are affected just by being outside. I don’t want them to struggle sleeping at night because they went above and beyond with the air this bad.”
All the local coaches who responded to our brief Sparks Tribune survey, on how the air quality has impacted their plans and execution of practices, were concerned about the issue and want the situation alleviated. However, they all said they’re far from in panic mode because their staffs and athletes have done a good job getting in shape throughout the entire summer.
“Other than really Monday, the smoke has not affected us,” long-time Sparks football coach Rob Kittrell said. “I believe we came into camp in great shape. Thus one day off of heavy conditioning will not affect us that much … But if the smoke were to linger, it would start to affect us.”
Howren had similar sentiments.
“I feel like we’re in great shape,” the Raiders’ gridiron guru said. “Our summer conditioning program helps kids prepare for the season. I also believe no matter how well you condition in the summer, it takes a few weeks early in the season to get in game shape.”
Hare said he has mixed feelings, pointing out that he doesn’t expect many issues with his players sucking wind from a lack of physical preparation, but still wishing the air quality was optimum.
“By this point in the summer, if you’re not ready to go, you’ve missed a month and a half of prep work. One week will not change that,” Hare said. “On the other hand, you’d love to get that last week’s push in before you start games.”