It’s Sunday, March 22, 8:30 p.m. My assignment to myself: Contact a teacher and a student and find out what it’s like to be a teacher and a student during the early stages of a pandemic.
I text New Trier High School Staff and Student Wellness Coordinator Jim Davis, who also coaches the school’s powerlifting team and serves as a New Trier varsity assistant football coach.
“Got a few minutes to talk about the New Normal for coaches and athletes?” I ask.
“Absolutely,” Davis texts me seconds later. “Will you be free in 30? I’m about to go for a jog.”
I wait. I don’t mind waiting in the least, because Davis might be the most positive human being in civilization.
The Chicagoan and 2002 NTHS graduate calls me at 9:05 p.m. He’s slightly out of breath. Maybe from the jog.
Maybe from something else. “I like to do pull-ups,” he says. “I found a place to do pull-ups outside an elementary school in Wicker Park. It’s snowing; it’s beautiful out here.”
Schools in Illinois closed last week because of coronavirus (COVID-19) concerns. They might reopen in mid-April. New Trier students began e-learning from home on March 19.
“As soon as word got out that our school would probably close soon, I processed the news and immediately asked myself questions,” Davis says. “It’s a tendency I have, especially when it has something to do with our athletes. My first question was, ‘How can we support the kids right now?’
“I called my [powerlifting] staff. We then made instructional videos of workouts for our lifters and uploaded them.”
Davis’ lifters won a national championship last spring. His 2020 squad was supposed to defend the title in Oklahoma City in early April. That won’t happen.
“But guess what?” Davis says. “There’s a national powerlifting meet, to be performed remotely, scheduled for the middle of May. We’re planning to be ready for that, if that’s the only way we’ll be able to compete this spring.”
I ask him about other athletes at New Trier. Davis doesn’t just work with members of the powerlifting and football teams; he also oversees the training regimens of athletes in the bulk of the school’s other sports.
“Our fall athletes were just hitting their stride in their offseason programs,” he says. “Some of our winter athletes didn’t get to see the culmination of their seasons. And our spring athletes hadn’t started their seasons; they’re in limbo now.
“My heart goes out to all of them, especially the seniors. I remember my last three months at New Trier and how special they were.”
I wake up the next morning. It’s the first day of New Trier’s spring break. I email New Trier girls soccer coach Jim Burnside, asking him to have star senior forward and Villanova-bound Emma Weaver call me. The Hall of Fame coach responds immediately, informing me he’d passed along my email to his three-time Illinois Girls Soccer Coaches Association all-stater.
Weaver calls me a few hours later.
Weaver—a Winnetkan and the reigning Illinois Gatorade Player of the Year in girls soccer— scored a goal every other time one of her feet touched the ball for last spring’s Class 3A thirdplace team. Or so it seemed. She netted 35 goals, actually, a gigantic total.
“I miss time with my teammates the most,” Weaver says. “I miss our time together, during games and in our shed [the team’s cozy pre- and post-game space, located beneath a set of bleachers at the home stadium in Northfield]. But all of us are working out at home, staying active, communicating, and sharing videos after our workouts.
“I got a recent text message from [New Trier senior] Claudia Shevitz,” she continues. “You’ve probably heard of her. Great lacrosse player, highscoring lacrosse player. Amazing … she’s amazing. Going to USC. She texted me, ‘Best time of high school, every year, is this time of year.’ I texted, ‘Yes.’ She then responded, “I wanted to talk with someone in a sport other than lacrosse.’ I think she was wondering if athletes in other sports were going through the same things she and her teammates were experiencing. She then let me know she’d always be available if I ever need to talk with someone.”
Weaver and Shevitz and hundreds of other North Shore senior athletes must be dealing with similar, wide-ranging reactions to the abrupt stoppage time. Frustration, for one. Fits of angst.
Weaver clings to Reaction No. 3.
Don’t even try to pry it away from her.
“I work out every day, in my basement,” Weaver says. “My teammates work out every day. We do strength and conditioning, and cardio. We work on our abs. We do core work, squats, and sprints. I don’t want to look back and regret that I hadn’t prepared properly to make sure I was ready for our first game. And I hope—hope, hope, hope— we’ll get to play this spring.”
I mention Burnside. “A constant supporter,” Weaver says. “I text my coach every day. He’s there for me, for all of my teammates. He’s one of my role models. He radiates positive vibes.”
I mention Jim Davis.
“Driven, so driven,” Weaver says of the man who somehow finds time to read, paint, and craft poems when he’s not jogging or pushing himself to complete an inordinate number of pull-ups. “He’s dedicated, hard-working, and he’s a motivator. When he enters a room, he’s got a presence, the kind of presence you … feel. He puts in extra time for our school’s athletes, making sure our form is right when we’re lifting, making sure the weights we’re using are the right ones.”
These days Weaver hears a particular question daily, more than once—way more than once. It’s,
“How are you doing?”
I ask it.
She answers it eagerly.
“I’m fine,” says Weaver, who has three older siblings. “My family has been great. It’s been comforting, having them around, working out with them, taking walks with them and our three dogs. I’ve been fortunate. I get to stay active and work out at home. But this shouldn’t be about me. People are dying. People are suffering.”
Wondering what Emma Weaver thinks about when she works out by herself at home?
“My teammates,” she says. “Only my teammates. I’m working hard for them, not me.”