Craig Whitney laughs. “This is the longest I’ve ever been away from West Valley,” he says.
A teacher and coach of two sports at West Valley High School, Whitney can’t even go to the school during the current shutdown due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“Right now, it’s still golf season,” he explains. “I just picked up some golf apparel we ordered for the team – T-shirts and sweatshirts, things like that. I will try to distribute that to my kids.”
The spring season has been canceled. There will be no Great Northern League golf tournament for Whitney’s Eagles this season. No state golf tournament either, although area golf courses will reopen with some new safety regulations in place beginning May 5.
“I feel for these seniors,” he said. “They’ve worked so hard. But they don’t get to do graduation, don’t get to have a senior prom. It’s not fair.”
The way forward is unclear.
Whitney and the rest of the staff at West Valley High still teach classes online, but how long that will be the case is anyone’s guess.
When you teach physical education, like Whitney does, it’s more of a challenge making sure students are actually doing the work.
When it comes to his other coaching job, as WV’s football coach, the way forward is just as unclear.
“I’m mostly just concerned that we have school in the fall,” he said. “No one knows.
“Everybody is in the same boat, and we’re in uncharted waters. Everybody is trying to figure this out as we go forward.”
Whitney’s son, Connor, is charting those same waters.
Heading into his junior season as a tight end at the University of Idaho, he finds himself at home with his family instead of Moscow with his teammates wrapping up spring workouts and heading to the weight room to prepare for the start of fall turnouts.
Coach Paul Petrino and his staff maintain contact with players through video conferencing to hold virtual team meetings.
“We’ve been treating every week like it’s a game week,” Connor said. “Last week was Eastern Washington, so we went through it just like we would if we were playing them. Everyone has been able to download the software to go over film of our game with them last year and look for ways to get better.”
If he was on campus, Whitney would have access to the Vandals’ state-of-the-art weight room to help hone his body for the coming season. Instead, he’s in the family basement making do with what he has – just as all of his teammates are doing.
“I’m lucky. I have a squat rack in my basement, and I’ve been doing what I can with that,” he said. “About three times a week I go to my dad and ask him to help me design a new workout for a different body part. That’s helped a lot.
“It’s kind of on the honor system. We have been staying in touch with each other and trying to make sure we’re all doing what we can to get ready.”
Improvising and taking an innovative approach to getting ready for a football season that is not guaranteed to happen is the new norm.
In a normal spring, having a new head football coach at Washington State would mean the new recruiter for the Greater Spokane area would have already stopped by to shake hands with every high school coach in the area and begun the hunt for future Cougars.
“He’s already been in touch, just not in person,” Craig Whitney said. “Spring is when they do a lot of recruiting, and they’ve been in touch, looking for players and asking for information.”
Football camps are a big part of summer for a high school coach. Most of those have been canceled, Craig Whitney said. Those that have been clinging to hope are few and will likely pull the plug soon. As it stands now, summer weight-lifting programs and speed workouts – a staple for most high school teams – are on hold. Even team meetings are off limits until further notice.
All a high school coach can do is keep his fingers crossed and wait for the situation to change.
College players stay in touch with each other – checking in with each other the way families maintain ties with one another during trying times.
Meanwhile, Connor Whitney keeps himself busy. His family planned to replace the deck in the backyard. He used that as an opportunity to grab a sledgehammer and do some demolition to get in an extra workout. He’s helped out friends and is about to tear out a hardwood floor for his neighbors.
“Everybody heard that there’s a college football player around, and they’re keeping me busy,” he said, laughing. “It’s fun and it’s a good workout.”
Watching the news is a challenge for both father and son. News about the pandemic has them hopeful for a return to normal one minute and, the next, convinced the shutdown will continue well into the fall.
“I look at the news this way,” Connor said. “Until I hear that the season is canceled, I’m going to keep working as hard as I can to be ready to go on Day 1. That’s pretty much all I can do right now.”