Last week, West Virginia’s schools were closed and extracurricular activities suspended due to the coronavirus, which put the high school basketball postseason and spring sports preseason on hold.
With no school gyms at their disposal, athletes involved in basketball and spring sports moved to other facilities — local YMCAs, health clubs or fitness centers to get in their work and try to stay sharp in case their seasons resume.
But with Gov. Jim Justice’s Wednesday decree that gyms, health clubs and recreational facilities be shut down statewide, where does that leave athletes now?
For St. Albans boys coach Bryan England, it was back to the basics.
“A number of our kids still have the option of going outside. When I was a kid, that was the main option,’’ England said Wednesday afternoon, shortly after Justice’s directive. “I sent [our players] a text two hours ago saying that you still have a couple hours of good weather. See if you can find a hoop outside and get some work in. That’s kind of where we’re at.
“We’ve just been communicating with our kids via text since they shut us down, and our message to them was to find a place every day if you can and get some shots up, work out on your own. We have a community center here in town [Action Sports Complex], and a lot of kids were going to that, but now it’s shut down. And I guess there are some city parks in the Valley area that are shut down, too. A couple kids texted me and said they were getting shots up at their house. We’re all in the same boat. We’ll weather the storm and control what we can control.’’
George Washington coach Rick Greene, like England, has formed a texting chain with his players, since coaches aren’t allowed to work with their players during the suspension of play.
“I just told them that with their parents’ permission, get in somewhere and get a run in and get some shots up and try to keep playing,’’ Greene said. “That’s where we left it. They’re finding places to play, but with places closed down [after Justice’s decree], who really knows now? But at least everybody’s in the same boat. Best thing about it: We’re technically still alive.’’
Bernie Dolan, executive director of the Secondary School Activities Commission, said that his organization’s stance all depends on what the state school system does. Classes are currently canceled through March 27 and extracurriculars are suspended until April 10.
“We’re primarily held to what the schools are doing,’’ Dolan said, “and if they’re not open, we’re not going to rely on people to go to gyms on their own. We’re going to wait until they’re back in school, or at least until a decision is made on whether they’re going back to school and when. After that, it kind of helps guide us, and we go from there.
“Classes are off through next Friday. We’ll wait and see what the direction is from that point, and we’ll have an idea. Certainly it doesn’t make sense to put them out there until we get a sense of what’s going to happen [with classes]. But every week that they postpone or have no school from here on out, it probably hampers the ability to restart. Still, we’re talking about missing practice and games to reduce the spread of this deadly virus. The decision is for the greater good.’’
Greene hopes that if practices are OK’d, there won’t be another long gap until games resume. Girls basketball has held three of its eight sessions at the state tournament, and boys basketball still has to play its Class AA regional games before the state tournament field is completed.
“If you think about it,’’ Greene said, “when they go back to school is the key. They usually give us seven practices before we can scrimmage. We can easily do that and not worry about the difference. That’s the policy that’s been standing for as long as I know. You can do a lot like that from a conditioning standpoint.’’
England said he’s had no personal face-to-face contact with his players since practices were shut down last week.
“That’s the tough part,’’ he said. I miss being with them. You go from 100 to zero. You’re with them six days a week from November to last week, and now we’re at zero. The season’s not over yet, and we still have that, but I miss these guys.’’
n Dolan also realizes that with its busy schedule, the Charleston Coliseum probably won’t be available to host state tournament play if the games do resume.
“Right,’’ he said, “and we may have to play with limited audiences or no audience depending on where we are in the state.’’
n Dolan said that if basketball teams are allowed to resume practicing, spring sports would be able to do the same.
“Once we open up,’’ he said, “and say, ‘OK, we’re playing basketball,’ and we have basketball rolling, our spring sports can gear up and play also. It’s all or nothing.’’
n Greene said members of the state coaches association are tinkering with rough drafts of holding boys state tournament games at neutral sites to possibly pare down the field. For instance, one such scenario has the GW-Wheeling Park boys quarterfinal being played at Parkersburg High.
“I don’t want to speak for everybody,’’ Greene said, “but everyone I’ve talked to said, ‘Let’s go. Let’s go and play and have some fun.’ They’re very interested in it. As long as it’s safe and good and gives the kids a chance to play, they don’t care the format or where [it’s played].’’