State COVID guidelines put high school hoop season in doubt

(NCHSAA.ORG)

The North Carolina High School Athletic Association has set Dec. 7 as the first day basketball teams around the state can begin practice for a 2021 season that is scheduled to begin on Jan. 4. 

At least that’s the plan. 

Because of current restrictions related to the coronavirus pandemic, there’s concern among coaches and administrators that the already delayed season won’t be able to start on time. If it’s held at all. 

How much concern? 

“On a scale of 1-to-10, it’s probably a 20,” said George Stackhouse, the coach at Westover High School in Fayetteville. “The way the numbers are, it doesn’t look promising.” 

The reason Stackhouse and others like him are so pessimistic is that basketball has been classified as a high-risk activity by the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services because it is held indoors and physical contact is involved. 

Until the state either amends or relaxes Phase 3 of its COVID-19 reopening plan, the NCHSAA is powerless to allow teams back into the gym to begin practice — let alone play games, with or without people watching from the stands. 

The same is true for football, which is scheduled to be played later in the spring. Even though it is played outdoors, it is also considered a “red activity” because of the physical nature of the sport. 

“There’s no real discussion about (canceling the season) right now,” said James Alverson, the NCHSAA’s assistant commissioner for media relations and special events and publications. “Unless the DHHS guidance changes before the start date, it would be real hard to justify starting the games.” 

Alverson said that NCHSAA commissioner Que Tucker remains optimistic that a basketball and football season will eventually take place, but Tucker is also realistic when it comes to the pandemic that has been disrupting all aspects of life — not just sports — since mid-March. 

“It’s like Que said back when we released the calendar,” Alverson said. “Everything is in Jell-o until the state gives its blessing.” 

“We’re taking things a little bit day-to-day while planning for the success long-term of all of our programs,” Tucker said at the time. “We certainly understand things can change dramatically, nationally and locally, and we will assess every situation as it arises so that we can provide the best opportunities in the safest manner for our student-athletes.” 

Safety, said coach Russ Frazier of Raleigh’s Leesville Road, is still the top priority — no matter how frustrating the uncertainty might be. 

“The kids deserve the opportunity to play,” Frazier said. “We have a schedule, we have a calendar, but at the same time here at Leesville Road, we’re operating on the safe side. The protection of the kids, coaches, staff and community.  

“That’s the key to me, that we pull this off in a safe manner and everybody pitches in by doing their jobs, wearing their masks, washing their hands, keeping their distance and we follow the protocols.” 

If the best-case scenario plays out and both high school basketball and football seasons can be played, it will create an interesting juxtaposition of the traditional overlap between the sports. 

When the sports are played in their normal order, basketball teams have to wait until the end of football season to get players that participate in both. Now, because basketball season is scheduled to be held first, the roles are reversed. 

“You know the old saying, ‘We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it’? Well, for the first time ever, the bridge is about to be crossed where football has to wait on basketball,” Frazier said. “The overlap has been going on for years, just never in this order. 

“That will be the strangest thing known to man, but we’re going to work together for the benefit of the kids. The most important thing is for them to get the opportunity.”