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Amid pandemic, young athletes kick off new sports season with physical and mental health a priority

Matthew Lickert, a freshman player for the Valentis Athletica Soccer Club, says COVID-19 has prevented many players from bonding with others.

ROSSFORD, Ohio — It's a Friday night that athletes from all surrounding areas have been waiting for as a new sports season begins.

Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, parents say it's essential for their kids to be able to participate. 

One of those players is freshman soccer player Matthew Lickert, with Valentis Athletica Soccer Club.

"It just helps me like bond with friends and all that. And you know, I get to talk to new people and meet new people and like, have those experiences that COVID's kinda prevented from us from having," said Lickert. 

His coach Tim Memmer says it's a relief knowing they can safely get the players back on the field, even with challenges during the pandemic. 

"Some of the coaches and us have had these conversations, just going through, 'oh my goodness we gotta go through this, we gotta go through that to make all this happen,'" explained Memmer. "And my whole opinion with it, been this whole time, is whatever as long as we get these kids playing."

Some of the changes they've made include asking parents to drop off their kids instead of coming inside and asking players not to go inside until 10 minutes before practice.

And of course, wearing a mask when possible.

"I'm not worried about it for the fact that these kids are needing this interaction. This is like mental health, is what this really is. This is helping them mentally and they're exposed anyways. This isn't something that they're not exposed to," said Kristen Vargo, who is a parent of two soccer players. 

It's a chance for the athletes to develop their skills and make new friends. 

"I can't hang out with my friends particularly as much as usual, 'cause they have plans still, but like some of their parents are scared from it too, which is just completely understandable," said Lickert. 

Despite being in a pandemic, the coach says last season, there were hardly any interruptions once they were allowed to play again. 

"We didn't have any interruptions game-wise. Anything. There was little impact whatsoever on any quarantines. Stuff like that," said Memmer. 

And for Lickert, the season with Valentis Athletica means possibly one day being able to play for a varsity team. 

"The whole point of this is, like, help develop each other for high school. So that's my main goal right now," said Lickert.