Winter sports coaches around West Virginia finally got some good news Friday. The Secondary School Activities Commission announced that a week of conditioning has been approved before teams begin their oft-delayed preseason practices on Feb. 15.
That means athletes who have been idled for months by COVID-19 concerns won’t have to jump right into conditioning and practice for their regular seasons, which are set to begin March 3 (girls basketball, swimming, cheering, wrestling) and March 5 (boys basketball).
“Based on the model before this,’’ said Winfield girls basketball coach D.J. Williams, “we’d have been doing conditioning most of the time in practice before we play, and that’s just a recipe for disaster because a lot of players have not been doing stuff over this break. And then you’re going to run them into the season without any amount [of conditioning] and start practice within 21/2 weeks of playing? That increases the risk of students getting hurt and other things.
“I’m just glad they did what’s best for the students and our players in this matter. I think the ultimate goal is that without our players, we couldn’t have the sport, and there would be no coaches, no use for coaches. I think the whole time we just need to make sure we’re doing what’s best for the players.’’
The first day of conditioning for winter sports teams is Feb. 8. The first day of conditioning and weight training for spring sports is Feb. 15, which means several sports will be going on simultaneously. The seasons will also be condensed, with the girls and boys state basketball tournaments set roughly two months after their regular seasons begin instead of the normal three months.
Sissonville boys basketball coach Ben Pannell thinks getting a week of conditioning makes the situation more manageable for teams and their seasons, which have been shortened to a maximum of 18 games for basketball, four less than usual.
“A little bit, for sure,’’ Pannell said. “It’s not a ton, but at this point with everything that’s been moved around and changed and the way things have panned out, even giving us a day of conditioning can prove beneficial for anyone.
“We’ve kind of been put on the back burner with a very limited amount of practice before games and we’re going into a season where everyone wants to fill all 18 games. That means you’re playing three times a week and if you get SSAC approval for Sunday practice every week, you could have four practices and three games every week. It’s hard to get a whole lot of stuff taught and developed within the limited activity we’ve had since March.’’
Williams finds himself in a trying situation anyway since he will have no returning starters in his first season as the Generals’ girls coach. He lost two potential starters when Kierstyn Doss suffered an injury in soccer season and Kennedy Dean opted to concentrate on softball. That, combined with shortened conditioning and practice time, adds to the uncertainty.
“So I’m starting new,’’ Williams said, “and we’ve got two transfer kids in. The rest of the kids have played predominantly [junior varsity], so any extra time we get is great for us not just from a basketball standpoint, but getting to know each other. I’m in a different light now. Last year, I was the cool assistant coach. Now, I’m the mean head coach.
“The JV game is different opposed to the varsity game — it’s faster and more physical and my players don’t know what they’re stepping into yet. So any time we can get to prepare will be beneficial.’’
Pannell is also concerned about the winter and spring sports running concurrently for several weeks, and that doesn’t even take into account possible shutdowns due to COVID breakouts, contact tracing or wintry weather.
“If you lose a week,’’ Pannell said, “you lose three games and three practices. Everything’s so cluttered and clustered, and you’re not taking into consideration the student-athlete playing multiple sports. Potentially, a team could be losing that athlete because they’re more involved in another sport. It’s a lot to ask an athlete to practice from 4 to 6 for basketball, and then practice from 6 to 8 for the baseball team or track. There’s a lot of overlap in our seasons.
“We’re all for multiple sports, but it’s a lot to ask those athletes to commit to a sport and meet all expectations. We get everybody thrown into the ringer for practice and games, then have to figure out the scheduling and all that stuff.’’
Some other items released by the SSAC Friday:
n Attendance at winter sports games is limited to parents, grandparents and household members, with the exception of swimming, which will adhere to facility limitations.
n If a county or school is designated as remote learning only, no practices or games may be held. Once a county/school resumes in person or blended learning, practices and games can resume.
n Cheerleaders will be permitted for home teams only, and it’s recommended that squads be limited to reduce the number of cheerleaders on the floor for basketball.
n Flex days for spring and fall sports practices won’t be permitted until Feb. 22.