When 104 Arundel High students began to congregate on the school's tennis courts shortly before 9 a.m. last Wednesday, it looked like the start of a day of summer camp. Most of the students wore shorts and tank tops, appearing a bit sluggish at what many teenagers consider an early hour for the summer.
But it became clear they weren't about to play kickball when three Arundel coaches broke them into 20 lines stretching across the court. In the next 65 minutes, the student-athletes - most of whom play football, but including girls from the field hockey, track and basketball teams - went through a series of jogging warm-up exercises, nine 100-yard sprints and stops at five stations in a steamy weight room.
That's the type of workout football coach Chuck Markiewicz expects of his players three times a week during the summer before teams statewide are allowed to begin practice Aug. 15.
"I got news for you," Markiewicz told the players, who were dripping with sweat after their weight session. "You're just beginning. This is all just a prelude."
While coaches cannot mandate attendance, summer training sessions are common in high school football, with teams using varying approaches to encourage participation.
A physical education teacher with a certification in weight training, Markiewicz prefers a specific regimen with vigilant supervision, as do other coaches such as Loyola's Brian Abbott.
Joppatowne's Bill Waibel is a little more flexible in his scheduling, opening the weight room at certain hours four days a week with a coach always around for supervision. He has the facility available two times each day so players can plan around work schedules, but when it comes to attendance, Waibel is no more lenient with his expectations.
"It's highly encouraged for kids to be there," Waibel said. "If a kid doesn't show up in the summer, he's not going to play much. High school kids are getting stronger in this area. They'll go out and get pushed around one game [if they're not in shape], and they won't like it."
Markiewicz holds his sessions regularly on Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, and requests the athletes attend 14 of the 17 scheduled meetings, promising they will conclude in two hours or less.
Coming off a 9-3 season in which his team was a Class 4A runner-up, Markiewicz said 95 of the 150 players who likely will show up on the first day of football practice have been to workouts regularly this summer. And because of the work ethic and camaraderie built in a weight room he estimates to get close to 100 degrees, he likes his team's chances of having another strong season.
What Markiewicz doesn't look forward to is the players, and their parents, who inevitably complain about a lack of playing time after they skipped out on the voluntary workouts.
"They don't want to do this, but they want to run around out there on Friday nights," Markiewicz said, pointing to the field. "I hate that."
This year, though, Markiewicz has had the best attendance since instituting the training program when he took over at Arundel in 2001. Last season, he said, the most players to come on a single day was 75. Now, he has up to 120 students, including about 35 freshmen who come to workouts before they've even taken a high school class.
The younger players are split into a separate group from the veterans, with the coach looking forward to when they become one of the "finished products."
There are some growing pains, as Markiewicz stresses that these workouts aren't for impressing the coaching staff so much as getting ready for the real work in August. He caught one athlete trying to pile on too much weight at the Romanian Dead Lift station and barked, "You're trying to be a hero, but you're not going to be able to get up in the morning."
Overall, Markiewicz was pleased, as his players plugged through the exercises with a sense of purpose.
Rising senior running back Anthony Gunn said he already notices the value of showing up for each session, and he expects to see a significant increase in his carries this season.
"Last year I didn't come to any of these - and it showed," said Gunn, who moved from North Carolina last summer and played only sparingly during the season. "I didn't do good at all and I was out of shape. Now, when I'm doing this, it helps a lot."
Heading into his first season at Poly after 32 years coaching Patterson, Roger Wrenn said he has not been satisfied with his new team's attendance at summer sessions. He added that the attitude and commitment of players is one of the first things he'll try to change once players are required to show up.
"The major reason we do [summer workouts] is for safety," said Wrenn, who opens the weight room for players and gives them a running regimen of increasing difficulty. "We want them to acclimate themselves to the heat, because this generation is used to air conditioning and living life indoors playing video games."
Markiewicz is confident the exercise regimen will be worthwhile when practices in full equipment begin next month. Plus, heading into his 20th season as a head coach, Markiewicz said this is far from the hardest conditioning he has put his players through.
"The kids think it's punishment," he said. "I used to beat the hell out of the kids when I was a younger coach, but I don't want to lose them late in the season because you beat them up in the first few weeks."
Most of the athletes looked ragged as they finished the workout, but others were still cranking out reps at their final weight station to a chorus of applause from their onlooking teammates. Some talked about going home for a nap as they walked toward the parking lot, while at least one was a little concerned about getting out of bed for the next day's session.
"It gets tough after a while," Gunn said with a smile. "Sometimes you don't want to get up because you're so sore, but you've got to keep pushing."