Summer school is a fact of life for dozens of local students this month, and dozens of others have been heading to Wagener-Salley High School several times a week to focus on digs, rebounds and quarterback sneaks.
In the case of football, it amounts to four mornings a week through much of the summer, Monday through Thursday, with a pair of “dead weeks” with no practicing allowed (the week of July 4 and the last week of July, leading directly into fall practice).
“We usually start at 9 o’clock and go until about 11:30 a.m.,” said Willie Fox, the school’s athletic director and head football coach. A few sessions of seven-on-seven action (with linemen not involved) are also a part of the summer plan.
Flexibility is a major part of the package, Fox said, confirming that some of his players are on board with such groups as FFA and Junior ROTC, and vacations are also a part of the season.
“We work with them. I want kids to be well-rounded. I don’t want robots, so if a kid’s got something else today, we try to work with him; but the kids understand they need to be here,” the coach said.
Summer school is also on some players’ schedule, but that activity is now largely computer-based, so students have a fair amount of flexibility in scheduling, he said.
Several of Fox’s players are also closely acquainted with Mark Burnitz, the War Eagles’ head boys basketball coach.
“I think football and basketball kind of go hand in hand and help each other,” Burnitz said.
“Being a small school, we have a lot of kids that play both football and basketball. It works. I tell them, I’m going to work around football for you, but if you’re going to do both, I expect you to do both.”
June is “summer ball month,” he said, noting that many players are heavily involved in AAU action in July, so high school teams look to make the most of June before July’s distractions arise.
Aiken County is home to one of the sport’s biggest such tournaments, as the Nike Peach Jam is held in North Augusta, with this year’s festivities set for July 13-25.
Riverview Park Activities Center is the base of operations, and hundreds of local volunteers are part of the effort in serving dozens of teams and thousands of fans from around the country.
Burnitz said his squad has 21 games on its schedule for June, with trips involving such locations as Saluda, Swansea, Eau Claire and the University of South Carolina.
He encourages his players to schedule their vacations for July as much as possible, to allow the team to make maximum use of June’s opportunities for practices and traveling.
“It’s not about winning or losing. It’s about getting better, and we’ve gotten better, so that’s good,” he said.
Among his gym neighbors this time of year is the volleyball team, coached by Shane Hutto, whose squad practices four days a week, Monday through Thursday through the summer, with the same “dead weeks” as the football team.
This year’s program, he said, has 26 players on board, including eight seniors and nine freshmen, so there are plenty of highly experienced competitors in a good position to help younger neighbors develop.