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story.lead_photo.caption Capital City and Jefferson City players battle for control of the ball during last Tuesday night's scrimmage at Capital City High School. Photo by Jason Strickland / News Tribune.

There's nothing to do now but wait.

High school sports in Missouri are currently in a designated dead period of no allowed activities heading into the first day of practice, scheduled for Monday, Aug. 10. But with COVID-19 concerns, the start of the regular season is still in question.

"The Jays will be ready for competition when competition comes," Jefferson City boys soccer coach Scott Blake said. "It's just a matter of when that competition comes."

It's the same for the Helias and Capital City boys programs.

"If we all do what we are supposed to do and carry it over into the fall, we can play this season," Helias coach Jay Hebenheimer said. "Now what that season will look like, who knows?"

Capital City coach Travis Cairer just hopes there is a season, currently scheduled to start at the end of August.

"Data seems to change every other day, you just don't know right now," he said.

III

With the closing of schools in the spring, there were no sports played on the high school level to wrap up the final third of the athletic year.

But the Missouri State High School Activities Association (MSHSAA) relaxed rules regarding contact days during the summer months, to allow more time for coaches and players to be together than normally allowed. A phased-in approach, starting with no physical contact and proper distancing of players, was available to be used for schools around the state.

As a group, all Cole County high schools decided no athletic practices or workouts would be allowed until June 1.

So that day, the Helias soccer program got back to work.

"I think we were the only school going," Hebenheimer said. "That gave me some trepidation because if everybody agreed you could start on June 1, why am I the only one going at this point?

"But we just kept rolling and my doubts fell to the wayside."

During summer workouts, each Crusader player had a temperature check and logged in before starting any activity. Only players and coaches were allowed near the playing surface at the Crusader Athletic Complex.

"We don't allow anybody inside the fence beside the players and coaches," Hebenheimer said.

On June 15, contact drills were allowed to resume.

"With the checks in place, it's been soccer as usual since then for us inside the complex," Hebenheimer said.

Capital City took a more delayed approach to the summer workouts.

"We didn't do a whole lot of anything in June," Cairer said. "It was the third or fourth week before we really got started."

The Capital City boys and girls programs had a week of camp scheduled just after school got out, followed by trips to an event in Iowa.

"That all was called off," Cairer said.

The Cavaliers went back to basics, the very basics, to go through workouts with safety protocols in mind.

"The best way to learn is to play each other, grind a little bit," Cairer said. "And we didn't really get a chance to do that early on.

"It hasn't been too bad, but we were scraping the bottom of the barrel when it came to drills to have the proper spacing we needed to be safe."

The Jays took a similar approach.

Blake said they began practice with squares set up on the field so players could train on their own with distancing, before beginning possession games at the start of July.

Jefferson City returns a bevy of seniors from a team that advanced to the Class 4 quarterfinals and finished No. 5 in the final power rankings by the Missouri Soccer Coaches Association. Having a group of veteran players figures to be a big plus, especially with the lack of game experience during the summer.

"We're relying on our experience," Blake said. "With kids shut down with COVID, it helps to have seniors when you get to restart."

III

In mid-July, the three teams took part in the St. Louis Varsity Soccer Showcase. The annual event was moved from Creve Couer to O'Fallon in St. Charles County due to COVID-19 concerns in the St. Louis metro area.

Hebenheimer emailed Helias parents to see if they had concerns about going to the event.

"For the most part, everybody said 'Let's do it,'" he said. "We went up, played and came back with no COVID-related issues."

The Showcase had only about 25 percent of its usual 80-plus teams and featured some health-related rules, such as using kick-ins instead of throw-ins and no slide tackling to lessen potential contact.

"If those are the changes that need to be made for us to play this fall, I'm all for it," Hebenheimer, who led the Crusaders to the Class 3 quarterfinals last season, said.

In what figures to happen again this fall season, all teams at the Showcase had to go through screening to participate. Players had temperature checks, as well as answering a series of questions about their general health and potential exposure to ill individuals.

And while it's hard to beat the temperature check, the potential is there to be less than truthful when it comes to answering the questions.

Honesty isn't the best policy, it's the only policy.

"I know kids, if they have a hurt ankle, they're going to tell me 100 percent they can play," Hebenheimer said. "But this is different, this is not something to mess around with because it could hurt the future of the entire team."

Jefferson City performed temperature checks on the players prior to a scrimmage last Tuesday against Capital City. But the players need to be mindful of their actions before they get to the field, Blake said

"It makes no sense to have guidelines at practice, then the players go do something totally opposite in life and bring that back," he said. "Whether they do or not, I don't know. But it's our job for us to tell them and for them to hear it often.

"We give them character messages about being a teammate, it's just an extension of us trying to keep them healthy."

Cairer talked to his team about the importance of social distancing before the start of the home scrimmage.

"When we're on the bench, we have to make sure we stay spread out," he said. "We've been strict about a lot of stuff, taking temperatures before practice and things like that."

III

The fall schedules have already taken a hit. And there's surely more hits to come.

Helias wasn't going to be allowed to travel out of the state to Illinois to start the season with the annual Quincy Notre Dame Invitational. As it turns out, Illinois recently pushed boys soccer to the spring, so there would have been no Invitational anyway.

Jefferson City is slated to start with an Aug. 29 contest against C.B.C. in St. Louis.

Most public school districts in St. Louis have announced they will be virtual-only with classes this fall, so by MSHSAA regulations, those schools will not be allowed to offer athletics and activities. But C.B.C., along with other non-public St. Louis schools, say they will offer in-person school two days a week, meaning they are eligible to play sports.

But that is still four weeks away. And a lot can happen in four weeks.

"We don't know if we're going to get that one," Blake said.

Jefferson City could also be looking to fill openings in the Dick Wilson Invitational and the Art Firley Shootout this season due to schools not having teams or being unable to travel.

It's also scheduled to be the inaugural season for the Central Missouri Activities Conference for the three local schools. Also in the seven-school conference are the Columbia trio of Battle, Hickman and Rock Bridge, along with Sedalia Smith-Cotton.

Area schools annually play in a summer baseball league in the month of June. But the Columbia schools were not allowed to host non-Boone County schools or leave the county to play games that month. That caused the schedule to be redone just days before the start of the league.

With the return of 30,000-plus students to the University of Missouri this month, the potential for positive COVID-19 tests will obviously grow in the county. And that could force the Columbia schools to make a similar decision about their sports this fall.

"I'm hopeful we can get in the conference games," Blake said. "I can see the situation where we are only able to play regionally."

The potential is there for the Cavaliers, Crusaders and Jays to face each other multiple times this season.

"I think it could get to the point where we couldn't travel even out of the county," Hebenheimer said.

If the unlikely decision is to be made to move the boys soccer season to the spring along with girls soccer, it would need to happen in the next week.

"I don't know how that would work logistically," Hebenheimer said. "I would be all for it, but I don't know for sure what might be different in the spring than this fall."

The one thing all the coaches don't want is to not play this fall.

"I hated to see the senior girls lose their season last spring," Blake said. "I would really hate to see that happen to another group."

"I would love to think we're going to have a season," Hebenheimer said. "Not for me, not for Scott, not for Travis. But for all the kids."

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