Checking in with local athletes amid COVID-19

Seth Kinker
Sports Editor

Sports are on hold arount the country as COVID-19 is being addressed. In the upcoming weeks, The Community Post will be checking in with local athletes and coaches that have continued their athletic careers after hogh school and how COVID-19 is effecting them in their respective sport.

*This article appeared in the Apr. 9 edition of The Community Post

This week, The Community Post caught up with Charlie Ernst, Luke Knapke and Nate Bruns.

Coaching through a pandemic

Ernst, a three-year letterman and two-time team MVP at Minster, just completed his ninth year as head basketball coach at the University of Findlay.

For Ernst and countless other head coaches at varying levels of competition and sport, it’s been an adjustment to lead a program in the midst of COVID-19.

The season had ended for Findlay in their conference tournament on Mar. 6 shortly before seasons and tournaments of varying sports were also canceled.

After Findlay had converted to online learning, Ernst discussed the fallout and what the team had done as most were still on campus.

“We were prepping for the worst-case scenario, that they were going to close the whole school,” said Ernst. “If that happened, what’s plan B? We were already preparing ourselves for plan A, B, and C. Unfortunately, within a week later we were already at plan C. Now it’s just getting used to this new life, this new way of doing things. Which is hard to do. We’re used to being around our players this time of year. The fact we have to conduct team meetings and individual meetings on zoom, is uh, it’s something that’s taken some getting used to.”

Normally, after a couple of weeks off,  the team would be preparing for next season. That starts in the spring before schools ends and includes weight lifting, coaches working with players on individual development and coaches meeting with players individually. 

The other portion of preparing for the next year has to do with recruiting and finalizing their roster for the next year while getting out and seeing players participate in AAU basketball.

“Spring AAU has become a big piece of college recruiting,” said Ernst. “It’s only been 5-6 years ago, that most of  the recruiting happened in July. Due to the rules being adjusted over the course of time, spring recruiting is probably more or as important than summer recruiting. We were preparing ourselves to be on the recruiting circuit not only to finalize this year’s class and next years team but then to see kids that would be current juniors going to be seniors.”

Ernst discussed the “leap of faith” some teams and recruits will have to take in light of COVID-19 effecting different aspects of the recruiting process. Luckily for Findlay, they had only one scholarship position to fill with most of their roster back and other recruits signing early.

“If  you had 4-5 scholarships and you’re trying to make decisions and get commitments, that’s not easy,” said Ernst of the struggles COVID-19 brings to teams looking to replace more. “The second piece, as I mentioned missing spring, recruiting with the junior class. Because we didn't have a lot of needs, we spent this season going out and watching high school juniors play. I feel comfortable with where our roster is at and recruiting going forward. I don’t think it killed us. Hopefully we can get clearance in May or June and get back to work and pick up where we left off.”

Findlay and their conference made the decision to eliminate all countable athletically relatable activities (CARA) that would include coaches sending workouts to players or instructing players over the phone.

Ernst, however, isn’t concerned.

“I really believe that the school and programs with the best cultures and leadership, by leadership I’m not talking about the head coach, I’m talking about players leadership,” said Ernst. “Will be the ones that don’t miss much because the players will coach one another.”

Players lives and COVID-19

The Community Post also caught up with two Flyer basketball alums in Bruns and Knapke in different stages of their athletic careers.

Bruns just wrapped up his freshman year and was preparing for the offseason after starting in 20 of 28 games he played in for Findlay that saw him work his way  into the starting lineup and become the team’s leading scorer by seasons end.

Knapke, a Marion Local alum, saw his five-year career at Toledo, where he became the school record holder for blocks in a career, season and game, cut short on Mar. 12 when the conference tournament was canceled due to COVID-19.

“I had a lot of family planning on coming out, it was a rivalry game, we were playing Bowling Green so we would’ve had a lot of people from both schools going over there,” said Knapke, who found out the season was over on Mar. 12. “We were expecting a lot of fans so it was kind of disappointing to hear that.”

Knapke told The Community Post the team found out at 11:30 a.m. on Mar. 12. First, they were told their temperature would be taken before the game but that it would still be played.

Around noon, other conference tournaments around the country began canceling and by 12:30 the Midwestern Athletic Conference had followed suit.

“I wouldn’t say I was surprised but I was definitely disappointed I would have my college career end like that,” said Knapke of his initial reaction. “We had a team meeting the next morning and that’s when it really hit me. Definitely disappointed but still in shock. It was like nothing I ever expected, I don’t know what to say.”

Bruns was preparing to get into offseason work while Knapke, who has aspirations to continue playing basketball professionally, had his timeline sped up with the effects of COVID-19.

“Right now, it’s just a whole lot of body weight stuff,” said Bruns in a phone interview on Apr. 2, who would otherwise be on campus participating in individual workouts in an alternate timeline. “Lifting. Just trying to get in your backyard and shoot. One of the coaches, during a zoom team session we had yesterday, said ball handling was a big thing you can do. Even if you don’t have a hoop, just grab two basketballs and start two handed dribbling, just stuff like that.”

“I’ve actually signed an agent,” said Knapke. “Working on getting workouts scheduled. It’s actually kind of hectic right now, I don't know what's going on. I’m just trying to stay in shape and whenever basketball does resume I’ll be ready for that.

“It’s kind of hard to find a gym right now,” added Knapke. “I’m not working a lot on basketball right now, More on conditioning and my physical strength with a lot of body weight workouts around the house. My initial plan was to get on summer league team and hopefully land a few NBA workouts. It doesn’t look like that’s going take place so not really  sure what to expect from here.”

With high school team camps, open gyms and lifting on the docket for the summer months, Bruns told The Community  Post he isn’t sure what it will look like when everything returns to normal considering the alteration of events that COVID-19 has resulted in.

“(I’ve) just been doing a lot of core (work),” said Bruns. “I’ve been doing a lot of pushups, squats, and stuff like that. I was going to put in a lot of work this offseason but right now it’s been put on hold. I mean, every other college team is like this too. It’s not like they’re not putting in the work or were not putting in the work compared to other teams. But even for individuals when you want to get better in the offseason, it’s not helping them at all.”

Bruns has kept himself busy by working out and keeping up with classes. When he’s not doing anything basketball related, he’s been playing Fortnite with friends from school and back home.

“Other than that, sitting around talking to family, not a whole lot,” said Bruns.

Knapke signed an agent the week after all the seasons were canceled and had an adjusted process of hiring an agent. Normally, he said he would’ve sat down with a few candidates with his parents and coach for a face to face meeting. Instead, he had to do so over the phone before deciding to go with an agent of a former teammate.

With the past month and foreseeable future up in the air, Knapke told The Community Post he wasn’t too anxious and he was just going with the flow but that not knowing what the next steps were sometimes crossed his mind.

Knapke double majored in management and marketing at Toledo and is on track to get his masters in recreation and leisure studies. No matter where he ends up, Knapke told The Community Post he would like to stay in sports.

“Just the friends I’ve made,” said Knapke on what he’ll remember about his five-year career in Toledo. “Teammates, coaches. The relationships I’ve built in the city of Toledo, they’ll stick with me for the rest of my life. I’m sure of it.”

As for now, Knapke is back home in Maria Stein and helping around the house.

“What am I doing? A whole lot of chores for mom right now,” said Knapke. “baking cookies and cakes and stuff like that.”