For better or worse, the Free State fall athletics season officially began Monday. The coaches seemed happy to get things under way, even if some of the players were not.
"Those kids who have been playing video games and eating Cheetos in the (air conditioning) all summer are thinking, 'What have I got myself into?' at this time," boys soccer coach Jason Pendleton joked before afternoon tryouts in triple-digit heat.
Luckily for all the Free State players and coaches, none of the athletes looked like they had wasted their summers in that fashion.
Football coach Bob Lisher said most of his players took care of themselves throughout the summer in preparation for the grueling August heat.
"Nobody's excited about practicing in the heat," Lisher said, "but for the most part the kids are ready and eager to go."
Since the school year hasn't started, the Firebirds' soccer and football teams ran through a pair of practices Monday, going early in the morning and again in the afternoon.
Lisher said he simply wanted players to get back in the routine of football.
"We're just trying to get them into the rhythm of things," he said, adding that it is hard to assess the team's potential on the first day of practice.
"Every team's looking for their direction or their persona," Lisher continued. "We're looking to try to see what this team's going to be like and what the strengths and weaknesses are."
Volleyball coach Nancy Hopkins said the first few days of the fall season are her least favorite.
"I actually hate this part of the season," Hopkins said. "I hate having to cut kids."
While the girls trying out for the volleyball team didn't have to battle the heat, some battled nerves.
"It's pretty easy to tell who's comfortable and who's not," Hopkins said.
The 11th-year Free State coach told the 37 players trying out that roster spots were not guaranteed, even to those who played varsity last year.
"We're going to give everybody a fair shot and try to field three salty teams," Hopkins said of the Firebirds' varsity, junior varsity and sophomore squads.
Members of the cross country team took refuge from the heat in the halls outside the gymnasium, where the volleyball team practiced. The boys and girls cross country teams spent the remainder of the first day running around the school's campus.
The runners occasionally made their way past the girl's tennis team, which also battled the heat on the school's courts Monday afternoon.
The Firebirds' gymnastics squad, coached by Kathy Johnson, stayed cool inside. Johnson coaches both the Free State and Lawrence gymnastics teams; they will use Free State facilities Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.
The only Free State team that didn't sweat it out Monday was the girl's golf team. Coach Craig Hershiser
held an organizational meeting, and the team will hit the links today.