Winter sports to take place amid COVID-19 restrictions

Girls varsity basketball coach Brycen Baugh instructs his team about defense during practice. (Photo by Sydney Tyler)

After an unconventional fall sports season, winter sports are expected to begin in the coming weeks, and despite health and safety worries, coaches are ready to implement whatever measures necessary to ensure an exciting and successful season.

 Girls basketball coach Bryce Baugh said safety is on the forefront of coaches’ minds entering a season predominately inside the school. Baugh explained that volleyball being indoors is helping him proceed with basketball safely. 

“The volleyball team used fans in the gym to increase air circulation, and we will plan to do the same,” Baugh said. 

He explained that he will do his best to ensure safety in a sport that relies so much on contact. While practicing, Baugh has added safety measures unique to this season.

“There will be a designated spot for players to put their own water bottle, mask and anything else they may need on the bleachers, spread out at least six feet,” Baugh said.

He said that all players must bring their own water bottle, and they will not have access to water fountains. Baugh added that he will be trying to limit the number of people who touch the ball by making players rebound for themselves at practice. Baugh explained that players who were in small pods of six during the summer had extensive shooting experience by having their own balls to use. 

“Over the summer, we had 18 players with over 2,000 shots,” Baugh said. “With the addition in the fall, we have three or five players with over 5,000 shots.”

Baugh is confident in the shooting and dribbling skills of the players, but he said that they may be lacking in other skill areas. 

Similar to Baugh, wrestling coach Chris Bragg has found some success within the pandemic. 

Bragg explained that with the daily sanitation of mats before and after practice, the amount of skin conditions players get during the season will be limited. 

“Honestly, I think there are some benefits to the virus, especially bettering hygiene for the team,” Bragg said.

The players must follow all rules set forth by the athletic department, like mask wearing and mat sanitation, he said. He explained that the players must wear masks to and from practice and when they are not in physical activity, while coaches are expected to wear masks at all times.

Despite mask-wearing protocols, Bragg said that he intends to allow players to wrestle without masks in order to allow for easier breathing. 

Even with the uncertainty of winter sports and the many adjustments being made, coaches have high expectations for their teams. Boys basketball coach Todd Phillips said he is looking forward to having new additions that can help make a difference on the team with returning.

Phillips is looking forward to watching several returners this season, but he is also worried about team members lacking skills due to limited summer competition.

“We typically go to OU and ODU in the summer to compete with other schools, but this year those events were canceled,” Phillips said. 

Despite this limitation, the boys team has four scrimmages scheduled in November to help them with their first game on Friday, Nov. 27 against Whetstone, Phillips said. 

The cheer team is also preparing for the winter season amidst several changes,  coach Brooke Wojcik said. She explained that many protocols from the fall cheer season including mask wearing and their personal buckets for their poms, water and hand sanitizers will be carried into this season, as well as other new precautions. 

“We have elected not to travel for basketball this year,” Wojcik said. “Many other high school cheer teams are choosing to do the same, because it comes down to limiting the risk.”

However, Wojcik said that they will have a packed schedule between the boys and girls basketball games. 

The biggest change for the cheer team is the setup of the cheerleaders in the gym, Wojcik said. She created a larger varsity team in anticipation of reduced COVID-19 rules by the winter.

“While our school is doing everything they can to provide all of them the opportunity to cheer, I will likely have to rotate them or each cheerleader will be assigned games to somewhat limit our number,” Wojcik said. 

Overall, Wojcik said she is very excited for the season despite many changes in protocols.

“Basketball is a long and busy season, so I’m confident that we can make it work,” she said.

Swim coach Saundra Sliwowsk said that there are many changes this season, including how swim meets will work to incorporate the pandemic guidelines. 

Meets are still a work in progress,” Sliwowski said. “We are potentially looking at dual meets only, as there are lots of new protocols in place to keep everyone safe.”

In addition, Sliwowski said that there are other new changes to daily morning pool practices. 

“In the pool, we will be spacing ourselves out, limiting numbers of swimmers per lane,” Sliwowski said.

Despite the several changes to the program, she said she is excited for the season and to welcome back key swimmers. 

Athlete safety is of the utmost importance,” Sliwowski said. “We will be doing all things possible to keep everyone healthy this season.”