High School Basketball: Players, coaches adjusting to COVID-19 modifications

  • Jared Hubbard, right, and the Pioneer boys basketball team are getting accustomed to wearing masks during practices and games, among other modifications introduced for this season. Staff File Photo/Paul Franz

Recorder Intern
Published: 2/9/2021 5:55:01 PM
Modified: 2/9/2021 9:26:31 PM

As Franklin County high school basketball teams prepare to kick start their third week of competition, it seems as if student-athletes have adjusted rather quickly to new regulations set by the MIAA in collaboration with the Massachusetts EEA in corollary to the COVID-19 pandemic.

No jump ball to start the game, no taking the ball out underneath the basket, nobody allowed in the lane on the first of two free throws, and, of course, each player required to wear a mask are just a few of the several rule changes. The goal of these modifications are to help ensure the safety of the many student-athletes who are sacrificing their health for their unalloyed love of the game.

Pioneer boys basketball coach Scott Thayer admitted that there have been some challenges early on that have forced his team to show some resiliency.

“It’s definitely great to be able to have this opportunity to play,” Thayer began. “But it certainly isn’t the regular high school experience. I think without fans it makes it extremely hard to generate your own energy as a team. It’s been challenging, however the kids have really adapted well and it seems to work just fine.”

For a coach with several decades of experience like Thayer, even he acknowledges just how burdensome this season has been compared to others.

Pioneer junior guard and three-year starter Jared Hubbard said he’s summoned his team to accept the provocation that the pandemic has offered.

“At the very beginning it was hard to adjust,” Hubbard declared. “It all comes with time. The masks, getting conditioning in, and getting in game shape took a toll on our bodies, but we’ve all pushed each other through it.”

Senior teammate Quinn Grover lauded the MIAA’s actions to warrant safety to the best of their abilities.

“I think they did a great job to ensure safety for the players and to make sure the game still feels the same. For me personally, other than the mask, it just seems like a normal basketball game,” Grover added.

Both Hubbard and Grover also mentioned the sacrifices they have had to make off the court, keeping their circles to a minimum as they try to limit the spread of the virus throughout the league. Hubbard, Grover and company have the Panthers off to a solid start on the floor, winning three of their first four contests.

Frontier Regional has been working particularly hard behind the scenes, as their decision to compete this winter was still hanging in the balance for the past couple weeks.

First-year girls varsity head coach Ben Johnson recognized his team’s desire to play, so he found a way to keep them motivated during practice.

“I have been telling them each week we will have a game. It may not be against another team, but we will have a game,” Johnson said. “Every Friday, we’ve been having intrasquad scrimmages, and tried to simulate a game as best as possible.”

For any coach, especially a first-year varsity coach, navigating with the circumstances of a pandemic as well as the uncertainty of playing games is no easy task. Johnson praised the drive and passion of his team, consistently lauding how they have made it easy for him to coach.

“At the end of the day, these girls are all competitors, they take everything as it comes and run with it,” Johnson stated. “(Co-head coach Patrick) Garland and I have been lucky enough to have some great leaders on this team that have stepped up and made this an easy process.”

Johnson and Garland agreed that their team deserves the bulk of the credit for making this season a possibility, and for continuously vowing to play, no matter how many games are contested. Last week was Frontier’s first action on the court, and the Red Hawks picked up two convincing home victories.

In a normal, non-pandemic basketball year, the first week of practice would start the Monday following Thanksgiving. This year, Frontier’s first practice was at the beginning of January, about a month and a half behind schedule. Kaitlyn Mackin, a junior captain on the team, admitted that the late start made it a little tricky to get into the swing of things.

“Initially, the intensity was low, as we weren’t in shape and playing with a mask only worsened the situation,” she offered. “We have been able to gradually increase the intensity and it is at the point now where it has been the last few seasons.”

Mackin praised the effort from everyone on the team, as positive attitudes from returners and new members of the roster have deemed to “make this situation a little bit better for everyone,” she added.

Senior captain Becca Bridwell confirmed that exact point, emphasizing that the hard work of the team has made dealing with the pandemic more manageable.

“I really haven’t found it much harder to bring back that intensity this season, mostly because of the environment the team has created,” Bridwell began, “We all want to improve our skills and we know that won’t happen if we don’t continue to push ourselves. I have definitely gotten used to (the guidelines) and it has become a lot easier to compete.”

As the shortened and oddly put together season continues to unfold, many players and coaches are simply pleased to be back out on the court in any fashion. For all of the seniors this year, having any competition at all has been a blessing, as this is their last chance to compete at the high school level. It has been a barbarous, tiring, and time-consuming process to put in a successful plan to play this season, but it is safe to say that it has benefited these student-athletes.

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