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Barons, Trojans return to the gridiron

South Boston News
Bluestone coach Jessie Chropka speaks to his team. / July 26, 2017
The Bluestone football team finished their summer conditioning program Monday and what’s coming up next is a 7-on-7 workout at Chatham High School today and the official start of practice Thursday.

Coach Jessie Chropka said the pre-season workouts have been good, especially because they’re voluntary. VHSL doesn’t require football student-athletes to start participating in the conditioning process until July 27.

“We started the weight room in March twice a week until the end of school. We were averaging about eight students each day,” Chropka said.

Bluestone made school history last season when the team reached the Conference 34 playoffs.

Chropka said the programs at both Bluestone high and middle school have undergone some changes since last season. They’re changes that Chropka sees as opportunities.

“There have been a lot of changes to the Baron and Trojan football program this year and all show signs of the incredible support of the community and the impact of last year’s success,” Chropka said. “We have a full middle school coaching staff to support Coach [Justin] Wilkerson this season by adding Ethan Hayes and Daquan Smith.

“At the high school level, we have lost David Hale and Nick Carter but have added two experienced coaches in Anthony Bateman and George Lancaster. We have also added Ryan Hayes and Johnny Kirkland as volunteers. The thing that I am most proud of as head coach for Bluestone High School is having a coaching staff of 14 qualified and caring coaches for the middle and high school programs. We are able to serve each student athlete and show them the love and support that they deserve.”

And speaking of the middle school program, Chropka noted that to have success at the high school varsity level, athletes need exposure to middle school sports before reaching the jayvee and varsity programs to form some cohesiveness.

“The middle school program was asked to join us this summer to work out,” Chropka continued. “We have around 10 middle schoolers each practice.

“Last year Coach Justin Wilkerson and Coach Austin Theis were new to the program and we kind of left them out to do things by themselves. Coach Theis moved on and we brought in two new coaches for the middle school, so we wanted to get the coaches and athletes accustomed to how the program moves and operates.”

Chropka added that the high school program is planning to have the middle school players practice at the high school this season so that the coaching staff can work together to build a stronger program from bottom up.

“We will not be practicing together, but will be on the same field so the coaches can talk to each other, help with discipline, schemes, and personnel groupings to better assist both programs,” Chropka said.

After the team’s workout on Monday, Chropka spoke to the student-athletes about the importance of attending practice.

Another piece being put into place this season is the formation of a Leadership Team.

Chropka implemented the Leadership Team after seeing how well it served Waynesburg University where he played his college football.

“I adopted the leadership team from my college coach at Waynesburg University, Rick Shepis,” Chropka stated. “It’s an eight-member team consisting of two players from each class.

“They help the coaching staff in discipline and mentorship for all the athletes. If a child has an issue with practice, another teammate, a coach, teacher etc., they can go to a member of the leadership team to talk and get guidance.”

Chropka also uses the team to help get a perspective how practices are going, concerns with practice or coaches, and in-school behavior.

“They are my eyes on the inside so I can be aware of a problem before it becomes disruptive,” Chropka added.

Leadership team members are also held to a high level of accountability. Each member must maintain B grades in all classes, cannot have any written referrals for discipline in school, and must regularly attend practice.

If they fail any of those objectives they are placed on probation and may be released of that duty. These members have been voted on by the athletes in their grade.

Chropka noted that for five years the Barons have attended Averett University’s 7-on7 workouts and they took both high and middle school players this year.

“We went to Averett University again this summer; we have been going for five years now,” he said. “We did really well. We took middle schoolers and high schoolers which totaled 28 athletes. That was the largest group we have ever taken.

“We are young and still learning but we competed against several state champions and showed dramatic improvement. We travel to Chatham High School on Tuesday, July 25 to compete in a 7 on 7 against Halifax, Randolph Henry, and Chatham. We are only taking high school athletes and look to put all our learning this summer to practice.”

Regardless of the workouts, Chropka wants Barons fans to understand that the paramount priority is the safety of the players and coaches — from staying hydrated, to staying cool, to helmet fitting and more.

“Athletes must have a current VHSL physical, which must be completed after May 31,” Chropka said. “Physicals are checked by our athletic trainer for important information such as inhalers, allergies, heart conditions, vision conditions, etc.

“Because we practice from 4-7 p.m. we get the brunt of the heat during the early part of practice and it tends to cool off towards the end,” Chropka stated. “Our staff is made aware of the heat and understand that this is not the time to put our kids in any unnecessary risk. We give our kids plenty of water breaks throughout practice and have a tent set up during every practice for shade.

“We also have educated our athletes on signs of heat related illnesses and have told them that if they become dizzy, light headed, sick, or a headache at any time to immediately tell a coach so we are aware. Coaches are also warned of the heat and told to be smart, if they need a break they are told to take it.

“We have four water coolers and an ice bucket available for each practice. Finally, we have built into our practice times for the athletes to get inside. We utilize the weight room, classroom, and the locker room to get kids in AC or just out of the sun for 30 to 45 minute periods.”

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