Brett Godwin saw Denmark’s soccer program grow before his eyes this season.
His own team, sure. The Danes’ boys soccer team was 6-2 before the coronavirus pandemic slammed the brakes on the season.
More recently, though, Godwin is finding himself more impressed with what Denmark’s boys and girls soccer programs are doing off the field.
Denmark’s players have stayed busy during the break, organizing daily workouts that are recorded and sent to a team captain.
“It’s been very tough on them, but their leadership to push each other, to be willing to organize this and to encourage each other this entire time, it’s honestly been very motivating for me,” Godwin said. “It’s great to see them using this opportunity to better themselves. It makes me feel good about the kids we have and the way our culture’s been going and how they’re really leading that now. It shows their maturity.”
In fact, the routine has grown into a sort of competition, with the boys and girls squads each divvied up into three teams and assigned a captain.
“It’s an interesting system he’s got,” Denmark senior Zach Bourg said. “To make it kind of fun he’s kind of made it into a competition between me, Newsha and Shayahn. We’ve got a group of individuals — we’ve kind of had a draft, actually, where we chose all the players we wanted on our team. With that, each day I have to make sure they’re giving me selfies of themselves doing the stuff, just to make sure that they’re doing it.”
Godwin and girls soccer coach Jen Barr understand the fluidity of the situation.
Gov. Brian Kemp mandated last week that all schools will be closed through April 24, which doesn’t sink the season as much as it does cast a shadow of uncertainty over it.
“There’s no playbook for us to follow in these uncharted waters,” Barr said. “We thought that this might be a good idea to help out leadership. Brett and I were both texting each other about coming up with a workout. We both took about 24 hours to kind of look online, and Brett found a really, really good workout. He kind of ran it by me and said, ‘What do you think?’ And I said, ‘This is great.’”
The workouts include conditioning as well as technical drills, and the captains require time-lapse videos with a timestamp to verify their teammates actually did the workout. Videos must by submitted each weekday by 8 p.m.
There’s a point system, too, with points assigned for completing workouts, extra running and mastering a drill.
Denmark senior Lauren Williamson said the points are tallied in a spreadsheet so the captains can see which team is winning, though she admitted she isn’t certain what the winner will receive.
“I have no idea,” Williamson said. “I think Coach Barr wants to surprise us, because she hasn’t said anything about that yet.”
"It’s hard to say, ‘That’s it.’ But I think not focusing on that element of it right now is going to help me push to better myself. And at the end of the day, if it gets canceled, then I’ll know I put 100 percent of my effort in.”Denmark senior Zach Bourg
Williamson is one of five seniors on Denmark’s girls soccer team, which also features senior defenders Taylor Miller and Jordan Watson, senior midfielder Lauren Murray and senior goalkeeper Hannah Shore.
Denmark’s boys team has six seniors, including Bourg, senior strikers Juan Jimenez, Georgie Manoj and Blade Power, senior midfielder Shayahn Mirfendereski and senior keeper Caelan Whitehead.
“It’s tough, because these seniors have put a lot in, and they’ve gone through a lot this year,” Godwin said. “They’ve had a lot of hard moments from last year that have helped them build to this point.”
Barr and Godwin also submit workout videos, a gesture to reassure their players that they’re all facing the issue together.
Bourg wasn’t surprised to see Godwin jump in the action.
“Out of all the coaches I’ve ever had in my life, Coach Godwin is probably the most dedicated to the program, and I’ll tell you exactly why,” Bourg said. “I walked in for our first preseason fitness test and he’s in his running shoes and everything. I’m like, ‘What is he doing?’ Then he gets in line on the track with us and he does every single thing -- and not only did he do it, he beat most of us.”
Williamson said the team’s four-person senior class is a close unit.
“We have a group chat — one with Coach Barr and one without Coach Barr — that we talk a lot in,” Williamson said. “It’s kind of unfortunate that the season is almost over, but at least we’re all able to still talk to each other and discuss how we’re feeling and stuff like that. Coach Barr has been a pretty good outlet for that kind of stuff.”
Williamson is committed to play soccer at LaGrange College, so no matter what happens over the next couple of months, she likely hasn’t played her last soccer match.
“It’s a big relief,” Williamson said. “I don’t know what I would do if this was my last season and it was just kind of like taken away. I just really love playing. Even though I’d probably be able to play pickup soccer — I know a couple of places that I could — it’s just not the same as playing on a team.”
That’s the situation the majority of Denmark’s seniors find themselves in.
The first round of the GHSA soccer playoffs starts April 24, which means any further school closure would likely end the season.
“It’s hard for me,” Bourg said. “I’m not necessarily looking to play competitively next year, and obviously I’ll continue playing the game intramural-wise or whatever it may be, but it’s been really difficult for me to come to terms with I may have played my last game. But right now, I think what’s important for me is to just put that to the side and continue on, keep on working at what I know I can have.”
After going 5-11-1 in their inaugural season, the Danes are the top team in Region 7-4A this year.
A 2-1 double-overtime win over region foe Blessed Trinity marked the high point of the season for Denmark, which followed that match with a couple of blowout wins — 7-0 against White County and 9-0 against Cherokee Bluff.
“After that game everyone was ready to continue on with the season,” Bourg said of the Blessed Trinity win. “I told Coach Godwin at the beginning of the season that if we beat Blessed Trinity, we’re going to continue on. We’ve kept on going from there. It’s hard to stay motivated right now, just because we don’t have each other and we’re not really there for each other (physically). But I think we’re trying to stay with each other virtually to really push ourselves and make the season the best we possibly can.”
Denmark’s girls soccer team (5-3-2) has already equaled its 2019 win total in just over half the matches.
“It’s been kind of amazing to see how much development and improvement there’s been over just two years,” Williamson said. “Our first year was a little rough. I mean, we had our ups and downs, but by the end of the season you could see there was just so much improvement from each individual player.”
Still, there’s a hope that remains for all senior athletes playing spring sports, one that would allow them at least one more chance to compete — some for their final time.
“If it gets canceled, then we move past it and we’ll conquer that hill when we get there,” Bourg said. “For now, we’re acting like that season is still going, and I think that’s best for my emotional health too. It’s hard to say, ‘That’s it.’ But I think not focusing on that element of it right now is going to help me push to better myself. And at the end of the day, if it gets canceled, then I’ll know I put 100 percent of my effort in.”