The Falcon Academy - Athletes Stay the Course Amidst a Pandemic

The life skill of exercise is learned as a result of placing an importance on physical well-being. In turn, O'Neal's coaches have created a culture of excellence and accountability. Close to ninety percent of the student body in the Middle School and Upper School participate in athletics and benefit from their coaches' purposeful approach.  
During the early days of North Carolina’s “stay at home” and “safer at home" orders, O'Neal's ability to offer athletics was postponed and later cancelled, and group workouts were prohibited. However, rather than completely pause or stop athletics, the coaches looked for ways to help student-athletes continue to train. After an athletic department meeting with Duke University’s Head of Olympic Sports Performance (and O’Neal Athletic Department advisor) Dan Perlmutter in early April, the coaches unanimously agreed to keep preparing and training for future athletics, not knowing when there would be a return to normal training or competition. The meeting was a call to action from Perlmutter and he deemed it, “Maintaining Your Momentum”. The Falcon coaches immediately began virtual workouts with their student-athletes and preparing them for athletic training sessions during the pandemic.  
Once a week, department meetings and subcommittee groups of coaches continued to refine ideas and visions and The O’Neal School’s “Falcon Academy” was formed. The Falcon Academy started on June 15, with teams and student-athletes being broken into groups of 8 in a strength and conditioning setting. Trainings were led by expert coaches from Sandhills Sports Performance. The Falcon Academy continued in the small group workout format until the end of July. "At the forefront of our coaches' minds was how to safely provide work-out opportunities to our student-athletes during the pandemic while empowering our student-athletes to control what they can control – their effort," says Athletic Director James Franklin. As pandemic restrictions began to lift, the Falcon Academy transitioned from two days a week sports performance-only trainings, to three days a week in slightly larger groups. The training sessions continued and slowly skill sessions were added in for volleyball, soccer, tennis and cross country teams. Not knowing if there would be a fall sports season, one day each of winter and spring sports training was also incorporated.  
The Falcon Academy was in operation until the middle of September. At that time, the North Carolina Independent School Athletic Association (NCISAA) announced that schools/teams could participate in fall sports seasons. However, from June until the transition to the more traditional type of fall season, the Falcon Academy helped students learn their sports disciplines despite the restrictions of the pandemic. The Falcon Academy also guided student-athletes to learn more about incorporating exercise routines into their lives, with a focus on self-care. Coaches helped students set targets for themselves, concentrating on areas to improve upon in order to garner success. Coaches also created internal competitions once or twice a week, so the student-athletes were able to remember what it takes to be a top athletic program in the state of North Carolina and the Wells Fargo Cup recipient. 

Falcon student-athletes accomplished a successful fall sports season with two individual state champions in varsity girls golf and varsity girls cross country. Girls tennis, volleyball and boys soccer also made state tournament appearances.  Now, well into the winter sports season tournament play, the Falcon swim team has won the boys and girls conference titles and were both bronze medalists for the state championship. O'Neal is excited about the upcoming basketball playoffs. With proper COVID-19 mitigation protocols and support from their families, O’Neal student- athletes have managed to accomplish what would almost seem impossible amidst the pandemic.  
An excerpt from the article "Making Lemonade: Effective Programming Amidst a Pandemic" in The O'Neal Magazine 2020

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