Basketball becomes masketball as Delaware's winter sports season finally begins
Most people focused on what has changed.
Kristin Caldwell focused on what hasn’t changed.
“I came to school. I taught kids in school in person. And I went home and got ready for a game,” the Caravel girls basketball coach said Tuesday night. “Nothing felt more normal. That’s about the most normal I’ve felt in a long time. So it was fantastic.”
Delaware’s delayed winter high school sports season finally got under way on Monday. Basketball kicked into high gear Tuesday, with scores reported from 15 girls games and 12 boys games across the state.
Like everything else during the coronavirus pandemic, it was different.
Every person in every gym – players, coaches, officials, cheerleaders, spectators – were wearing masks.
Fans were not allowed at some games. Where they were, great care was taken to keep them socially distanced.
The same went for the players not on the court. At the William Penn at St. Georges boys game, chairs were staggered and liberally spaced on each side of the scorer’s table. At the Padua at Caravel girls game, players were spread out at least two rows apart in the bleachers.
For the first time, a player could literally come out of the stands and hit a 3-pointer. And it happened a couple of times.
“It’s weird,” India Johnston said, after scoring a game-high 18 points in Caravel’s 69-31 victory. “… You’ve just got to get used to it. It’s the new normal.
“It’s fine. We’re still playing, and I’m grateful for that.”
Winter sports practices began Nov. 30, and competitions were scheduled to start Dec. 21. But on Dec. 4, due to a surge in coronavirus cases, part of a stay-at-home advisory announced by Gov. John Carney and the Delaware Division of Public Health pushed the start of games back until at least Jan. 11.
That date was in jeopardy until Jamie Mack, chief of Health Systems Protection for DPH, announced at a special Delaware Interscholastic Athletic Association board of directors meeting on Jan. 7 that competitions could begin Monday.
But spectators will be extremely limited – no more than one per athlete or cheerleader – early in the season.
“That would be in place likely for a couple of weeks until we see where the current data trends related to some of the holiday gatherings and things like that are going over the next week or two,” Mack told the DIAA board.
There were no spectators at St. Georges on Tuesday. The Hawks did have 24 cheerleaders making some noise, but there were plenty of silent moments.
“It’s really eerie,” St. Georges coach Rod Griffin said after his team defeated William Penn 57-41. “Sometimes I was thinking when I was yelling instructions, ‘Maybe I can calm down a little bit, because I think they might be able to hear me a little more easily without the people.’
“It’s strange. I’d love to have people back, but we’ve got to be cautious with this pandemic until things calm down.”
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The Hawks’ Michael Breakley certainly noticed the difference while scoring 10 points and grabbing nine rebounds.
“It’s more quiet in here. I don’t think anybody is used to that,” the sophomore said. “Usually, the stands are full and it’s louder in here.”
But the biggest change was the masks. Breakley said he started wearing one while playing AAU ball during the summer. It took him two months to get used to it, and finding a mask with the right fit was a big help.
“It’s way different,” said Le’Mar Wright, who led St. Georges with 11 points. “Obviously, you can’t breathe as much. It’s tiring. And sometimes it comes down and you have to put it back up.”
A referee spotted Wright with his mask down in the fourth quarter. He immediately blew the whistle and sent the senior to the sideline until the next stoppage in play.
“I was dribbling the ball and it just came down for a quick second,” Wright said. “And if comes down for a quick second, you’re out of the game.”
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Gary Lumpkin, a former All-State guard at William Penn who is back as head coach at his alma mater, was just glad to see his team in a game.
“It was kind of a relief to get out here and start playing against some other guys that we haven’t seen,” Lumpkin said. “Five or six weeks of practicing against each other gets a little old.”
Lumpkin and the other coaches have adjusted their practices to deal with the new realities.
“I try to give them a few more water breaks, making sure we’re stressing the masks staying up,” Lumpkin said. “For the most part, just making sure I’m attentive to their health needs just as much. Make sure everybody stays safe and healthy.”
Caravel junior Taylor Wilkins was also cautioned by an official when her mask slipped against Padua.
“It was difficult. I’m not gonna lie,” Wilkins said. “Especially getting warned by the refs today. But it’s definitely something new and we have to get used to it. It’s tough.”
When asked what was tougher about the mask, keeping it over her nose and mouth or breathing through it, Wilkins said, “Keeping it up, breathing, all of the above.”
The Caravel girls had a positive coronavirus test related to the team during the preseason, forcing a two-week break from Dec. 20 to Jan. 3.
In a normal season, those weeks would be filled with Christmas tournaments and showcase games, often against elite out-of-state teams.
But this isn’t a normal season. So after staying home through the holidays, the Buccaneers were more than ready to finally start the shortened, seven-week regular season.
“In 16 years, I’ve never had a long Christmas break, ever,” Caldwell said. “… It kind of felt like starting over again on the 3rd. But these are great kids and they work. That’s what this whole year has been. You just adapt.”
Contact Brad Myers at email@example.com. Follow on Twitter: @BradMyersTNJ