Just as happened in the fall, winter sports athletes got to the week when practices were set to begin, and then had things pushed back by its conference.
On Tuesday, the Northern Tier League announced they would delay the start of the winter sports season.
The original plan was to begin practices on Friday, and then games would start on Dec. 7.
Now, Dec. 7 is when practices are recommended for teams to begin and NTL matchups will begin on Jan. 4. The league voted on this at their meeting Tuesday. Although schools who allow their teams to play non-league games can start some of those games before the end of 2020, and the practice start date is a recommended date by the league.
New York will allow lower risk sports to begin practices this month, but basketball and wrestling are among the sports that won’t start until Jan. 4. The IAC already had pushed all winter sports until Jan. 4.
For Waverly coach Lou Judson, one of the challenges in New York will be dealing with shortened seasons, as they also plan to try and get fall sports in this spring, and shortened preseasons.
“We are going to try and fit in as many sports as we can from Jan. 4th — until end of the year (just not enough time but better than nothing) and there’s not going to be much of a preseason and I feel you’re going to see athletes getting injured because they aren’t conditioned properly,” Judson said.
“I’m seeing it now with my own AAU travel basketball program with the lack of conditioning because we can’t find a gym to practice at. The seasons are only going to be 7-8 weeks long. It’s obviously going to affect teams in many ways but for basketball; offensively is where I think you’ll see the biggest struggle. Your defense is usually much further ahead of your offense the first six weeks of the season, teams will be just starting to find their offensive identity, and the season will be over. You will have to prioritize what you think will be important offensively, defensively, and schematically in a short period of time. The quality of basketball and sports in general will be affected and could be for some time. “
Pennsylvania coaches and athletes, knew that this was possible.
“It is what it is, we must accept it and move on,” Towanda boys basketball coach Ryan Napp said of the delay to the season. There are too many unknowns and things that are out of our control. The first thing we talked about this year was just getting better everyday we are in the gym. We knew there was always a possibility of the season/practices getting paused from time to time. I hope that mindset will stick with us through the entire season.”
Troy’s Ty Barrett is one of the best basketball players around. He is ready for the year to start, but is ok with it being delayed, as long as eventually he can hit the court.
“I’m okay with the season getting pushed back as long as we end up having a season,” Barrett said.
For Pennsylvania teams, there is still a lot of unknowns.
The PIAA had a meeting Wednesday and did not announce its official plan for winter sports seasons.
Philadelphia issued their own restrictions, which will wind up delaying the start of winter sports there, and could lead to winter sports not getting played in its respective districts.
For coaches, there will be uncertainty all year.
“I am optimistic we will have a winter season,” Napp said. “Unfortunately, our 22 game season will likely get shortened. So, the news today certainly makes you realize the risk of not having a season will continue to be a possibility all year.”
Players hope there is a season, but whenever things change, it’s hard not to worry about what could happen.
“It does make me think that the chances are getting slimmer of having a season,” Barrett said. “It’s making me wonder how many games I have left to play in the next two years. And I am also hoping to get noticed by college coaches in this upcoming season.”
For many coaches, it is a balance. They want the kids healthy, but they also know sports are important to the kids.
“The first step we have to do is to make sure our protocols give our players and their families confidence that basketball can continue safely,” Napp said. “Then, depending on our state and school guidelines, figure out what we are and are not allowed to do with the kids.
“I hope that we can come up with a solution that allows them to keep playing and doesn’t increase their health risks significantly. It’s hard to know which is more dangerous to these kids. The virus itself or not allowing them to have social interactions that they get with being in school and playing sports. You can make a strong argument for both sides.”
While many of the tournaments have been lost, for Napp, the key is just getting as many games in as possible this year.
“Early season and holiday tournaments are a bit overrated in my opinion,” Napp said. “It is more important playing tougher competition later in the season that gets teams focused and ready for postseason play.
“We will have more than enough competition in our league to get us better. I am just hoping we can find a way to get most of our games played.”
For coaches in both states, the hope right now is that come January games are able to get started.
“As far of advantages to starting later — very few. The only thing it does is for the first time in my 20-plus years of coaching is that Thanksgiving and Christmas break will look a lot different. With no fall sports, all athletes should be physically healthy to start the season (the bigger concern is that most won’t be properly conditioned — (not coming from a previous sport) and are they mentally healthy to start the season). Hopefully by January, the number of COVID-19 cases are starting to decrease which then less people would be affected with having to quarantine.
“Am I optimistic that we will begin basketball on Jan. 4th, no I’m not — not in the state of New York. It will be quite challenging with protocols and guidelines that are in place to get through a season. If one player gets COVID-19 on your team — then your entire basketball team will be quarantined for 14 days — that will be 1/4 of the entire season and potentially 4-5 games missed. There are many creative things that can be done to be able to play sports. I was just down in Manheim, Pa. (Spooky Nook Sports Complex) with my travel basketball teams and they found a way to get it done.”
One thing that doesn’t get discussed a lot, but coaches know is important is that youth sports are also being hurt right now.
With youth sports losing games and seasons, it’s harder to develop kids for the future.
“Many youth programs have canceled their seasons which will hurt the overall development of players,” Judson said. “