As high school basketball teams in the Anchorage School District neared the end of their third straight week of daily practices with no games in sight, coaches were thrilled Thursday to delivery some good news:
The season will tip off next week.
With the city’s announcement of a new COVID-19 emergency order that allows indoor sports competitions, the Cook Inlet Conference basketball season will begin with a full slate of games on Tuesday.
“I can’t wait to get to practice to tell the girls we get to play,” Bartlett girls coach Clarence Smith said.
Across town, Dimond boys coach Brad Lauwers felt the same way.
“Each week when we found out we didn’t get to play, I felt an obligation to interrupt practice and tell (the players) right away,” he said. “It was pleasing to me today to stop practice and tell them, hey, we’re going to play. This time it was good news.”
Official practice began Jan. 11, with games scheduled to begin Jan. 18. But the first week of games was cancelled, and then the second week, because of a city mandate saying teams could practice but they couldn’t play against other teams.
Practices continued without the reward of competition, and players have worn masks the whole time -- a requirement carried over to the new emergency order.
“It was a struggle at first but the girls just want to play,” Smith said. “We’re at the point now where if they had to wear a mask over their entire head, they would wear it.”
The emergency order limits ASD teams to games against other Anchorage teams. They can’t travel outside Anchorage for games, and they can’t host teams from outside Anchorage.
How the order applies to private schools is unclear -- the Anchorage Health Department has not responded to questions whether emergency orders apply equally to public schools and private schools. The Anchorage Christian girls basketball team is currently out of state and playing several games in Louisiana (in their first five games there, the Lions went 3-2).
Mat-Su and Kenai Peninsula started playing basketball games last week, which was hard to see, Bartlett senior Amelia ‘Uhila said. She said she understands why there have been quarantines and cancellations, and the news that games would start in Anchorage next week “is a dream come true.”
“It’s pretty difficult as a senior,” she said. “You want to have one more run, but with the circumstances around the world (and) everything being taken away from you, you have to be grateful for the time you have doing what you love, and just keep playing.”
Smith and Lauwers both said participation numbers are down at their schools.
“Typically we have 50 to 60 try out for 36 spots,” Lauwers said. “This year we got about 30, 32.”
He said the Dimond boys program has just enough players to field varsity, JV and C teams. Smith said no ASD girls programs have enough players for a C team and three of the eight don’t have enough for JV teams.
“I think folks are scared because of COVID,” Smith said.
He said he knows more than 20 people around the country who have died from the disease; he caught the virus last year but recovered. Bartlett High takes the city’s and school district’s COVID-19 mitigation policies seriously, he said.
“We sanitize the ball every 15 minutes,” he said. “We’re using hand sanitizer before we come in and before we leave. We’re very careful with the mitigation.”
The city order allows for the resumption of indoor hockey games and other ice-based sports, although the Anchorage School District’s high school hockey season won’t start until March, after spring break. The same goes for high school wrestling.
“We’re delaying the start of both those seasons till after spring break,” ASD administrator Marty Lang said. The delay means hockey teams will miss the state championships -- a tradeoff Lang said coaches accepted “in the hope of having a longer and uninterrupted season.”
Participants in hockey and wrestling must undergo COVID-19 testing prior to a competition, according to the emergency order.
Nordic skiing is the only ASD sport currently holding competitions. Although the school district dealt with a number of team quarantines during the fall sports season, none have occurred this winter, Lang said.
“We’ve not had any (team) quarantine situations thus far for skiing, basketball or cheer. We’ve had some isolated cases where an individual had to quarantine,” he said. “That is good news. We’re in a better place than we were when we were wrapping up the fall seasons.”