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Prep Play in the Pandemic: Volume 7

By Neil H. Devlin, Mullen Sports Information Director
Sports Medicine's Joey Mahmood and Johnnie Garcia among Mullen's front-liners in keeping Mustangs students safe during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic; the times are unprecedented and challenging, but they're confident better days are ahead. 
(Editor’s note: Various Mustangs in 2020-21 share their thoughts of competing in high-school sports during the coronavirus, COVID-19, pandemic.)

Frontline workers is a term repeatedly being applied during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, now still raging in its 10th month.

From doctors to nurses, police to firefighters, grocery-store employees to pharmacists, city workers to teachers, the reference, a necessary one, is used hundreds of times daily in communities across the country.

Mullen is no different with its faculty and staff working diligently to keep the school and community members safe and two of them, Joey Mahmood and Johnnie Garcia, have constantly been at the front of Mustangs’ interest.

Mahmood, the school’s Director of Sports Medicine, and Garcia, Assistant Athletic Trainer and Medical Liaison for the school, have gone well beyond taping ankles, assessing injuries and assigning rehabilitation.

Since March, when Mustangs girls basketball got within a game of defending its Class 4A Colorado championship, and the overlap with the spring season was held to just one baseball game and a league match for girls golf that sparked a very rocky mountain for the future, the up-and-down trends of the pandemic have made Mahmood and Garcia boringly idle to incredibly busy, and everything in between.

“There has been a lot of uncertainty,” Mahmood said, “and a lot of change.”

For instance, he pointed to the ever-changing number of people permitted in certain places.

“You may only have 25 people indoors or 20 people in the weight room,” he said, “then it goes back to 10, then back up … and in the athletic training room, it’s busy in there and this year we only allow five students in there. Students have to wait a lot.”

In addition to wearing a mask, washing hands, taking temperatures and social distancing, Mahmood also hopes students are discovering how to take better care of themselves, but is finding out that “after school masks are off and we’re hanging out ... but I like to think we’re learning something hygiene-wise that we all should have been doing.”

Uncertainty also continues to weigh heavily.

“This is the other thing,” Mahmood said. “I’m a pretty conservative athletic trainer. I say ‘Take your time returning from injuries to make sure it’s healed.’ But this year, if they had a chance to play safely, we’re, like, ‘Hey let’s do it.’ You don’t know what would happen next week.”
Mahmood and Garcia have been seeking to promote positives for nearly a year.

“Overall, it has been pretty good,” Garcia said. “The summer was tough, but once it started and we were having COVID procedures in place … just following guidance from the (Center for Disease Control) we were able to adjust and do things safely.”

Plus, he added, “we can’t avoid cases, but we can figure out what to do.”

With the fall season or Season A just about completed, Mahmood said, “I’ve been talking to colleagues around the country … and nobody’s getting COVID from their sport or school. At school, there are parameters in place. Let’s use that data.”

The two also have had the responsibility of informing Mustangs students who tested positive (they number less than two dozen) about their quarantine. Staying away from school, sports teams and other activities has been their message. Even with all cases originating from outside the school, it hasn’t been easy.

“It was tough having conversations with kids on the phone or in person,” Mahmood said. “Johnnie’s the Medical Liaison for the school and the school has leaned on us heavily for policy and procedures. And in every case, Johnnie or myself calls the kid or parent to confirm and talk about the procedures and moving forward.”

It’s confounding, Garcia said, “because I think right now we’re kind of staying where we’re at ... there are certain things we can do to help the mental well-being. Sports is important for everybody, It can be done while keeping the community safe, and we have to think about other people in the hospitals.

“It’s balancing act and we have to be considerate of others.”

Mullen will remain in Phase 3, online learning, through the Christmas break and everyone hopes for a return to the class room. Talking care of students physically as well as mentally has been the goal since the COVID-19 outbreak.

Said Garcia: “I’m an advocate of in-person learning. I think the class rooms should be the No. 1 outlet for getting into the school. Kids are struggling with no interaction. Getting back to it is good for their development. But I do understand why we are in distance learning and hope we can all get back together soon. ”

More perspective in these times, Mahmood said, is needed “because people tend to focus on the negative. We do it all of the time, but this is a life-altering event. Just the perspective it has on your life – it could change on a dime.

“You have to be thankful for the late practice and be thankful about the bad-weather games ... and for everything we have.”