High school basketball games kicked off the 2020-21 season across North Carolina last week after starting at a later-than-normal date due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
North Carolina High School Athletic Association Commissioner Que Tucker worked closely with her team, as well as athletic directors across the state, to take Governor Roy Cooper's mandates and the advice of Dr. Mandy Cohen, secretary of the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, into consideration. Planning for the season started back in August, and some details are still being worked out in terms of scheduling.
Tucker said the NCHSAA isn't requiring regular COVID-19 testing since it's an education-based competition and the budget doesn’t allow for them to provide it. One of the major requirements for this season is a mask mandate for the players and coaches while playing.
Tucker acknowledged that this decision was met with some opposition at first from the parents of players across the state. The opposition was rooted in concerns over the level of safety that playing basketball with masks provides. Tucker said some parents were concerned that the masks created more health and safety problems than they solved.
“Actually, a lot of the pushback came from the parents," Tucker said. "They were more vocal than anybody. They sent in calls and emails explaining how they felt it wasn’t right.”
Tucker credited the will of the kids to do whatever it took to be able to play, as well as an American Academy of Pediatrics study, as two of the main reasons why the mask mandate was accepted and the season was ultimately allowed.
“Once those studies came out and indicated that you could play sports and wear masks it made it a lot easier," Tucker said. "We had some kids in the mountains that told their athletic directors that they wanted to play. They didn’t want to wear them but understood if that’s what it would take, then they would do it.”
Gatherings during the holidays have been another major hurdle in the journey toward seasons progressing across the state, with Tucker estimating that 100 schools are dealing with quarantine issues.
Still, the relative success of the volleyball playoffs gives Tucker hope that a plan can be put in place to allow for playoff basketball.
In area schools, some kids are just happy to be able to get back out and compete on the court.Northwood High School men's basketball coach Matt Brown expressed how the pandemic has changed his team’s outlook on basketball.
“We’re really blessed to be playing again and having the interaction with everyone. That’s good for our mental health," he said. "It made us realize the things we take for granted, like practicing and being around each other every day."
At Chapel Hill High School, men's basketball coach Rodney Carter shared a similar sentiment. His team already had its first two games rescheduled or canceled due to COVID-19 and weather-related problems.
“We understand that things aren’t going to be normal and have to prepare for that," Carter said. "We could be preparing to practice one day, and I have to text the team that morning with news of us playing a game instead.”
Still, Brown stressed how important it is for players to take things day by day, given the ever-changing circumstances surrounding the pandemic, as they prepare for the season.
“We told our guys to control what they can control," Brown said. "Things are going to change, and when they do, you have to be ready for that.”
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