The Freedom High School football team poses after a game. Local Bethlehem high school football teams are making adjustments due to COVID-19, by requiring players to wear masks when off the field, and following local safety guidelines. (Courtesy of Jason Roeder)

Local high school football coaches discuss fall seasons

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Local high school football teams are grappling with varying COVID-related regulations for their fall seasons. 

Pottsville, Philipsburg and Freedom high schools, to name a few, are all set to compete this fall, but are preparing for different starting dates and season lengths.  

Pottsville Area High School, located about 55 miles west of Bethlehem, played its first game on Sept. 11, losing to Nativity B.V.M. High School. A member of the Colonial-Schuylkill League, Pottsville is scheduled to play a seven-game regular season that concludes on Oct. 30.

Pottsville head coach Tom McGeoy, ’04, is a former Lehigh linebacker. Despite the team playing just three less games than a normal season, McGeoy said he is not taking any week for granted. 

“Going into our first game (on Sept. 11), we told our players you have one game,” McGeoy said. “Next week is not guaranteed.”

McGeoy started as a linebacker for the Mountain Hawks in 2003, and said his experience at Lehigh as a player and coach has led to his career coaching at Pottsville. McGeoy spent 2004 on the Mountain Hawk coaching staff, assisting with the defensive side of the ball.  

 McGeoy said the whole team has bought in since the pandemic began in March and is proud of how the team has adjusted. 

“We had Zoom meetings earlier in the year and told our players to fill their empty gallons of milk with water to use as weights for the ones that did not have access,” McGeoy said. “We focused on our players staying in shape and staying sharp mentally to be ready for game one.” 

Across the state border in New Jersey, just outside of Easton, the Stateliners of Phillipsburg High School have been dealing with a different situation. 

Unlike Pottsville, Phillipsburg will start the season in October. Head coach Frank Duffy said their first game will be on Oct. 2, with six weeks of regular season games followed by two weeks of playoffs.

“We had several weeks of (virtual) workouts since the week of July 13 in New Jersey,” Duffy said. “That has been the virtual period that (ended) on Sept. 11.”

Having concluded virtual workouts, Duffy said beginning Sept. 14 the team will start practice the first two days with just helmets, the following three days with helmets and shoulder pads, and full padded practice the week after.

The Stateliners have stayed accountable and have made adjustments throughout the whole summer, Duffy said. In these times, the team has looked up to its senior class and captains to lead. Seniors Matt Quetel, Matt Garatty, Matt Barna and Jacob Hille have recently been named captains for the team this year and are looking to bring home a win for Phillipsburg High School.

For nearby Freedom High School in Bethlehem, head coach Jason Roeder said the staff got back to working out with the team outside at the Bethlehem Ice Skating Rink in June. From the rink, the team transferred to the field for outdoor practice with the 250-person maximum capacity outside rule. Since then, Roeder said, the team has adjusted to local COVID-19 restrictions. 

Roeder said coaches must wear masks, with players also being issued gaiter performance masks. Players do not need to wear masks when in-game, but if they are on the sideline or waiting in line during a drill, their masks must be on.

“Despite all the ups and downs in the offseason, the attendance (of the players) has been outstanding,” Roeder said. “Our team has been upbeat, taking every day one day at a time, and controlling the controllables.”

Freedom High School confirmed they will be playing a five-game schedule, but is unsure of how playoffs will work, Roeder said. With their first full practice having started on Sept. 8, the team has been approaching everything day-by-day and their culture has been helping them get through it, Roeder said.

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