Sports carry DeWitt High School students through pandemic

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As the athletic trainer at DeWitt High School for 10 years, Steve Jenkins saw firsthand how an athletic program can do  its part in helping student-athletes play safely and successfully during the COVID-19 pandemic.

With 700 student-athletes at DeWitt High school, Jenkins and athletic director Michael Brya take responsibility for ensuring the athletic program follows COVID-19 guidelines. These guidelines include social distancing, mask wearing and rapid testing.

Isabelle Gilmore, senior, playing basketball for DeWitt High School. Image by Elizabeth Bethard.

Jenkins said, “The rapid test is a nasal swab. It’s just 5 seconds each nostril around the edges. [The student-athletes] swab themselves and then they hand it to me. I put in six drops, put the Q-tip in, close and wait 15 minutes but not longer than 30. It runs off the same science as a pregnancy test.” 

According to Jenkins, success in the program relies on the cooperation of coaches, athletes and everyone involved, but those most eager to play seemed to follow the rules closest.

Jenkins said, “The ones that I think do the best believe they’re the best. They’re hard workers but they have some confidence and they know that they need to do this the correct way because if they don’t, they’re not going to win. They believe they’re going to win, so they have to do all the COVID protocols. When they have something to lose, they follow the rules and the protocols. When they’ve got nothing to look forward to and nothing to do, there’s no incentive for them to follow the social distancing and the mask wearing.” 

This commitment level to COVID-19 guidelines helped DeWitt’s football team win a Division 3 State Championship in 2020, the first in school history. In an effort to control the spread of the virus, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced a series of pauses for partial shutdowns throughout the season. Throughout this time, many players remained locked in to what they needed to do to not only play well, but safely. 

Jenkins said, “We knew we were good and we knew we had a shot, so they were amazing at their dedication this year. Football season went six months long, just as long as NFL season,  and they were dialed in the whole time. Even when we went on a pause and they couldn’t have any physical contact with the coaching staff, they were still working out and doing passing drills and things on the field. They were still locked in even through that five-week pause.”

Jenkins’ role in the team’s success varied from ensuring guidelines were followed, helping with sports injuries, nutrition advice and the mental battles faced by student-athletes.

Jenkins said, “I was just a constant reminder of things that needed to be done. Being there to listen to them when they’re frustrated about having to get tested every day, having to get their check-ins. I was always the constant reminder to the coaches and the players to spread out, put your masks on, do it right.” 

Isabelle Gilmore, a senior at DeWitt High School, committed to play soccer at Bowling Green State University next year. Jenkins played a role in helping her stay ready to play throughout the pandemic. Gilmore plays club soccer year round in addition to high school basketball and high school lacrosse.

Gilmore said, “I couldn’t really get into the gym to shoot or the fields to practice, so I actually spent a lot of time at Conquest with Steve Jenkins, who’s the athletic trainer at DeWitt So, I’ve been working on speed, my strength, lifting a lot to help me get ready for this basketball season and stay in shape for when we did get to play finally. I got injured last season in basketball, nothing big or anything, but it’s nice that he knows what I can do, he knows my injuries and what can make that better. It’s awesome having him.” 

This widespread commitment by DeWitt High Schools athletic program has been rewarding to those involved, both on and off the field.

Jenkins said, “Playing again has been the best thing for these kids. I got to see it firsthand. To see the toll it took on the kids was crazy. But when you can get them back and do it safely, which takes a lot of people to follow the rules, when they do it has been amazing.”

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