This Maryland high school player profiles series is presented by the U.S. Army.
The Watkins Mill High School corollary sports program, which allows special needs students to compete in various sports and is led by coaches Jayme Lutz and Casey Burdette, was nominated for the Maryland high school team and player profiles series by Wolverines athletic specialist Lisa Magness.
“Our coaches, Casey Burdette and Jayme Lutz, have been doing a phenomenal job keeping our students with special needs engaged during these challenging times,” Magness said. “They coach all three of our corollary sports at Watkins Mill and continue to create fun and engaging activities.”
At least seven kids participate in each five-week season. The seasons are split between handball, bocce and softball. The following athletes are on all three rosters: Thomas-Gabriel Bacorro; Alejandro Chaurand; Lucia Chaurand; Wai “Shawn” Lok Luk; Alexander Schwartz; Charles “CJ” Schwartz, and Isaac Kim. Additionally, Robert Fleischer is on the bocce squad.
The activities have been fully virtual during the pandemic, which has added an extra challenge for both the coaches and the kids, but the coaches said the kids have adapted and made the best of the situation.
Lutz and Burdette answered some questions about being nominated.
PressBox: What does it mean for the kids to get recognized like this?
Jayme Lutz: I’m sure it is an honor for them to get nominated, to get recognized and to be on a team where they get to participate and be a part of their high school and represent their high school.
Casey Burdette: I think it’s huge for them. They are so proud to be able just to wear the Watkins Mill jersey, to really stand out and represent our high school — not just as an individual, not just as a team, but as a program, because many of my athletes participate in multiple corollary sports. They’re going to be over the moon about this. This is really something cool for them.
PB: What does it mean for you to work with these kids?
JL: I love working with them. Virtually has been completely different than in person. I’ve been able to get to know them on a much better personal level. During our practices, they end up sharing more of their personal daily lives. We hear more of their stories. It’s just very different than when we’re focused more on our sport and on our in-person practices.
CB: Oh really, it is very special to me. I see most of them in the class as a teacher, and I think it does both of us good to be able to build that relationship outside of the classroom. There are definitely days when being a teacher is difficult, and it’s that practice afterward — or just the team camaraderie — that makes my day. And so, if it were not for our athletes, I would not be doing this. They make it more than worthwhile.
PB: How important are the program and the activities to the kids? How much do they enjoy it?
JL: For virtual, I think they enjoy it because it’s a time for them to decompress. They’re still online, but they get to decompress and relax a little bit and hang out with their friends. It’s more casual. When they’re online all day [for school], they’re not really able to hang out with their friends and just talk. When we’re in person, they enjoy it because they get to focus on their sport and get better at it, and they love going to different schools and meeting the different teams and encouraging everybody to have a great game.
CB: I think that they very much enjoy it. A lot of our players play more than one sport. And while I know that some of them have a sport that’s probably one of their favorites — some [sports] they might like more than others — I think just the opportunity to participate, to socialize with their with their teammates and to represent their school is a very important opportunity for them. I know that most of our guys look forward to the banquet at the end, probably more than anything. And that’s just a chance for us to recognize each player’s contribution, whether you’re playing every minute, whether you’re on the field or off the field. Every player that we have contributes in some way. And I think they really appreciate the feeling of being a part of something larger than themselves but also feeling like they can individually contribute to that.
PB: How challenging has it been over Zoom? What have you been doing with them? How have they handled it?
JL: So by the end of the day, everybody is tired of being online. We’ve been doing Zooms since 9:00 a.m. and our practices are usually from 4 to 5:00 p.m.. And there are days that I don’t want to be on Zoom anymore, but we all get online and we do our conditioning and stretching, which we all need from being slumped over the computer. And we all end up laughing and telling stories, and we end up having a great time. Our team has been together for a long time. We do have one new freshman this year, who is a brother of one of our athletes. But everybody else, we’ve been together for several years. So it’s nice to get everybody together and hang out.
CB: It’s been challenging for obvious reasons. In a typical school year, sports are a chance to get that release. And so after you sit all day in a virtual classroom, to ask our athletes to go to another hour-long Zoom meeting for practice is a lot. I really respect their commitment to the team, but in some sense, it’s been that same bright spot in our day. It’s really easy to feel kind of like you’re in your own little box, even though you had this little computer window to look through. We are able to socialize, to kind of feel that connection, even though it is virtual.
And as a coach, I’ve had to really be cognizant of the screen time, of the load that our athletes have on them. I have some students that are great athletes, they’re great students, but I know that the thought of spending another hour on Zoom is just too much for them. And so very early on, I made sure that those students know, “Hey, if it’s too much one day, that’s totally OK. Just know that we’re still thinking about you and that you’re no less a part of this team if it’s just too much.” The practices that we [have had] have been a lot of fun. I’ve had them go on a scavenger hunt through the house, just to pull things that are school colors or sport-related.
If we’re talking sports-specific things, it’s utilizing the technology that’s available to us. We use the Zoom platform, and I can break out the whiteboard. We can discuss strategies, have Q&A quizzes, things of that nature. A lot of it depends on the day and how the guys are feeling. I have a workout routine that we would try to do once a week. And what I really liked about that is that it’s something that we can send home with the athlete, they have it there in our classroom, and it’s something that they can do in the confines of their house to not just be a part of the team, but to stay physically active. Because again, the corollary sports are a great way to socialize, but they’re also a great opportunity for these guys to work on their fitness, to work on coordination, and we tried to keep that going as much as possible digitally.
To nominate an athlete or team for a future U.S. Army Player/Team Profile, visit PressBoxOnline.com/Impact.
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Jayme Lutz