ELKHART — Merging the athletics programs at Elkhart Central and Elkhart Memorial high schools was always going to be a tough challenge. Throw in a global pandemic, and it’s made things that more complicated for the new Elkhart High School.
Josh Shattuck, the head football coach and Assistant Athletic Director at the newly merged high school, fittingly used a football comparison when describing what the first three weeks of organized workouts has been for the new school.
“We had a good plan going in, and you just troubleshoot from there,” Shattuck said. “It’s no different than playing a game: you have a game plan, you go in and then you have to adjust on the fly as the game goes. It’s very similar to that.”
Shattuck, who spent the last three seasons as the Central head coach, is overseeing workouts with 80-plus kids at them. Despite still not being able to practice with pads or helmets on yet, Shattuck has been encouraged by the turnout.
“We feel really good about our kids showing up,” Shattuck said. “In talking with other coaches around the state, in other states and football networks, the kids have been waiting to do something. So, our attendance has been good.”
As assistant AD, Shattuck helps ADs Jacquie Rost and Brian Buckley with all of the new changes. While there have been many issues to figure out, Shattuck said transportation has been the biggest one so far.
For the 2020-21 school year, both the old Central and Memorial buildings will host kids in grades 9-12. Central is called Elkhart High School East this year, while the old Memorial is Elkhart High School West.
The coronavirus pandemic adds another wrinkle to the transportation issue, as many student-athletes may choose to take classes online for the fall semester. With practices and games spread out across the two buildings, Shattuck knows there’ll be some longer travel times for kids depending on where they live in Elkhart.
“With our return to school plan, just mathematically, about 40 percent of our kids will be in the buildings on any given day, which means 60 percent of our players will have to find a way to get to practice,” Shattuck said. “We’re, obviously, in a huge district now … so our kids who live significantly far away from (Rice Field at Elkhart East), they’re going to have to get here somehow and get picked up.”
On the surface, athletes who worked with coaches prior to the two schools merging have an advantage because of the relationships with said coach. Central coaches know Central athletes better, and likewise with Memorial coaches and athletes. Favoritism could become an issue with combining the two schools, and that’s why Shattuck decided to address the issue head-on.
“Our philosophy was this is a new program,” said Shattuck, who retained most of his coaching staff from Central as well. “It’s not Memorial added to Central, it’s not Central added to Memorial. It’s a new thing, and so it’s going to be new for Central kids and new for Memorial kids.”
While Shattuck admitted former Central players have an advantage in knowing the terminology of the program better, there are some things the new football team has changed to keep it a level playing field.
“In terms of how we operate our program, we’re doing some things that are significantly different from what we’ve done when we were coaching at Elkhart Central,” Shattuck said.
The pandemic has affected the way Shattuck interacts with his new players. Instead of summer camps, Shattuck hosted several Zoom calls with players in May and June, with the first month of meetings focused on getting to know the players and the second month learning the playbook. This has led to strong workouts so far in July, in Shattuck’s eyes.
“They had a good winter before all of this hit, so we got to know the kids pretty well there, and then we’ve been getting after it here in July,” Shattuck said. “So, I feel really good about the relationship-building piece.”
Shattuck is embracing a new beginning with the Elkhart football team. He’s hoping it helps him avoid showing any favoritism to the former Central players.
“It’s a reset button for everybody ... We said that on December 2nd (when Shattuck was hired) that we’re going to base our opinion of your work ethic, your leadership and your academic standards from December 2nd-on,” Shattuck said. “Anything you did before that, for better or for worse, is not going to be taken into account.”