Like a lot of athletes in West Virginia, Isaac McKneely was frustrated on Wednesday when he heard Gov. Jim Justice had pushed the start of winter sports back another seven weeks to March 1 due to rising COVID-19 numbers.
And like a lot of athletes, the Poca High School junior took to Twitter to vent his frustration. The only difference being that McKneely — unlike many others — is considered a high Division I prospect in his sport, boys basketball.
So plenty of people took notice when McKneely tweeted out: “I’m done,’’ shortly after Justice’s announcement. Later, he added that he had to find another place to play.
But Dots fans need not worry. It was just a momentary lapse.
“I’m not actually going anywhere,’’ McKneely said later in a telephone interview. “I took it down [off Twitter].’’
Athletes and coaches around the state learned Wednesday of the latest delay in their winter sports seasons — basketball, wrestling and swimming — and many of them are searching for answers.
Why the delays when sports are going on all over the country — even at the high school level in neighboring states? Why is it OK to get students back in confined classrooms, as Justice indicated on Wednesday, but not OK to put players in spacious gyms?
“I’m glad they’re going back to school,’’ said Poca boys coach Allen Osborne. “That’s great. They need to be back in school. But why can you have 25 kids in a classroom of 300 square feet, but you can’t get 10 guys on a basketball court? None of it makes sense, especially when you look around us.
“Kentucky started [basketball] this week. Ohio’s been playing, Virginia’s starting this week. Pennsylvania’s starting back this week. They’re playing all over the country — [WVU] is playing, Marshall is playing. The [Mountain East Conference] is starting to play. But high school kids in West Virginia can’t play. I’d like to know the reason why. Someone needs to explain it to us.’’
Jamie LaMaster, George Washington’s girls basketball coach, senses “a lot of frustration right now’’ among his players. Girls basketball practice actually began in West Virginia in mid-November, but was shut down after four days when Justice first pushed winter sports practices back to Jan. 11, then followed with Wednesday’s announcement.
“It feels like a Band-Aid being pulled off slowly,’’ LaMaster said, “instead of being ripped off. Kids are doing remote learning. They’re not with their friends at school, and now basketball’s being taken from them, and swimming and wrestling and the other sports. The kids were thrilled to get back together [on Jan. 11]. They were sky high to get back together.
“I understand that it’s a pandemic. What makes it worse is that kids [on social media] see these other areas are playing. They can’t understand why surrounding states can do it with limited attendance, social distancing and we can’t. If nothing else, at least let us condition and let us be with our kids. Something to let these kids have some sense of togetherness.
“We’ve proven we can do it. We proved that in Phase 1, Phase 2 and Phase 3 before the three-week summer [practice] period. We were safely spaced out and distanced.’’
Osborne said “kids are suffering’’ in more ways than just missing basketball.
“I’ve got a player on my team,’’ he said, “who was an honor roll student last year, and he may not be eligible because he can’t learn online. Some kids learn differently. We’ve been orange on the map and out of school for eight weeks. He calls me on the phone, crying, and there’s nothing I can do for him. We’ll be feeling the effects of this for years to come.’’
McKneely, after his bout of frustration boiled over on Twitter, acknowledged that he’ll remain true to his school, even if basketball season runs well past its original end date and conflicts with AAU season or basketball showcase events in the spring and summer that could be vital to his recruitment.
“Obviously, when it comes down to it,’’ McKneely said, “I’ll choose the high school season rather than AAU. I’ll stay and play with my high school team. I can’t quit on them.
“I’m just going to continue to work and stay positive and control what I can control. The start date of basketball is not in my control, so I’ll just stay ready and hopefully we get the chance to play.’’