Back in March the concerns associated with the COVID-19 pandemic led to high school athletes being isolated from in-person contact with their coaches.

But that all changed this week.

The start of summer school reunited students and teachers in the classroom and athletes and coaches on the practice field while observing social distancing.

On Tuesday a Joplin High School, a total of 502 students who will be in grades 7 through 12 next school year participated in the summer physical education classes.

"It's really gone great," JHS athletics director Matt Hiatt said. "The kids have been great, and they've been working hard, following social distancing guidelines. It's really gone better than we could have expected. I can't imagine us being off to a better start than what we are."

It's hard to tell who is the happiest.

"I think everybody is just happy to be back," Hiatt said. "We're certainly happy to be back around the kids and getting some things going. I think for the most part they are happy to be back around their friends and in more of a normal routine."

Sessions are scheduled daily from 6:30 a.m. to noon, and they are open all students, not just the athletes. Sessions for high school students begin at 6:30, 8:30, 9 and 9:30, and the last session is for middle school students from 10:30 until noon.

"That's our typical summer groups, that many sessions," Hiatt said. "What we're doing now, once they get here and check in, we peel them off into smaller groups. We'll have a group on each end of the football field, a group on each end of the soccer field. With the middle school session, we use the baseball field as well."

The groups are not sport-specific at this time but rather centered around conditioning.

"Right now we are focusing on conditioning with running and sprints and body weight exercises," Hiatt said. "Our focus is trying to get our kids back in shape since we haven't seen them for 10 weeks or whatever it's been.

"Most of what we're doing right now is outside. We are using the weight room with some of our groups in small groups, but mainly we are conditioning outside on the football field and the soccer field here at JHS. Weightlifting is being done socially distanced just like everything else. We're focusing on things that don't require a spotter. We're staying apart."

Changes could be coming after next week.

"This is what the county health officials have approved for us to do up until June 15," Hiatt said. "We're looking at the possibility of maybe being able to start phasing some more things in on June 15. We're starting now to look at what we might do after that."

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