It’s a little before 8 a.m. on a Monday and Estancia High School’s early workout session is winding down. A handful of student-athletes who started at 6:45 a.m. have one final set to get through.
Stewart Burnett, the school’s athletic director and head football coach, is running the workout. He sets his timer and says, “All right you guys, let’s finish strong. Ready? Go!”
On Burnett’s command the group shreds their last few reps of push-ups.
“Go Levi, GOOD!” Burnett says to Levi Burelsmith, who plays on the football team.
“Good job, Jacob,” Burnett says to Jake Zamora, who plays football and baseball.
The student-athletes complete their set and call out the number of push-ups they totaled. Burnett writes the numbers down on his stat sheet.
The kids are in their own homes, nowhere near each other, working up a sweat doing something that none of them did before two months ago: a virtual workout—one of the new-normal activities that has sprung up since the coronavirus pandemic changed everyone’s lives.
Using Zoom—a web-based video conferencing service—Burnett, a couple of his assistant coaches and multiple student-athletes have been getting together virtually four days a week since March 23.
A handful of kids, including Kody Larson and Ja’Brae Boyer, sign in. They do a minute of jump rope to get warmed up, and then the second workout gets underway.
“All right, let’s roll,” Burnett says to them. “Come on, give me reps, the clock is running, make sure that chest gets to the floor.”
“Kody, twenty-five,” Larson says after finishing his first round of push-ups.
“Kody’s feeling it this morning,” Burnett says to the group.
Some playful banter ensues as Boyer wraps up his first set.
“How many Ja’Brae?” Burnett asks.
“I think I got 19,” Boyer says.
“No, 18,” assistant coach Daniel Pierce says.
“I lost count after 15,” Boyer admits with a grin.
The workout continues for an hour. Some of the kids are in their bedrooms. Others are in their living rooms. They set up their phone cameras so Burnett and his assistants can watch them. Everything is seen, even an occasional family member or pet that might walk into the picture.
When the New Mexico Activities Association canceled spring interscholastic sports, schools had to stop all organized practices and workouts. But the NMAA told coaches and athletic directors they were free to hold virtual workouts with kids participating from home.
Like many schools, Estancia got on board immediately.
“It took us a week or so to figure out what we wanted to do,” Burnett said. “But this is now our ninth week, our 33rd individual day of Zoom workouts.”
Burnett conducts three workouts a day, two separate morning sessions and one in the early evening. Each day has a different focus—one day is all push-ups, the next day might be squats.
Burnett said the turnout has been good—he typically gets four to six kids in each individual session. He said the largest turnout for a single workout was nine.
“We haven’t done less than 11 or 12 kids in a day and we’ve done as much as 17 in a day,” Burnett said, adding, “We’ve got seven or eight kids that haven’t missed a single day.”
Zamora said the virtual workouts were a little different to get used to at first, but he thinks they have been beneficial. “I feel like I’m getting a lot out of it,” he said.
Burnett, who tracks everyone’s progress, said all the kids have shown some amount of improvement.
“The numbers certainly suggest they have,” he said, noting “a couple of shining examples” in Marino Rivera-Noblitt and William Ward.
Burnett said Rivera-Noblitt had 406 total reps during his first workout, and Ward had 321. This past week Rivera-Noblitt was up to 861 and Ward tallied 722.
“They’ve both doubled their total output since the beginning,” Burnett said.
Burnett also said the virtual workouts have given him and his staff some interaction with the student-athletes that they would not have had given the stay-at-home situation—and they have helped maintain camaraderie with the kids.
“I feel very good about what we’ve done, we’ve made tremendous use of this time,” Burnett said. “Given the circumstances, we’ve done as good as anybody in the country at maintaining some sort of workout regimen for our kids.”
Ger has been writing and shooting photos of high school sports for The Independent for 15 years. His dedication to youth athletics goes beyond sports reporting. He is past president of East Mountain Little League and works as a baseball umpire. He lives in Edgewood with his family.