How the 2021 winter sports seasons were affected by Covid-19: Girls Basketball and Boys Basketball

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Photo Credit: Simon Toffell

The whole team stops to pose for a picture while celebrating “Senior Day”, an event that, despite COVID-19, the team worked so hard to make happen so they could honor the beloved seniors.

by Michael Taromina, Staff Writer

As the fall season came to an end, and the cold weather brought a resurgence and increased fear of COVID-19, it was tough to imagine a successful winter sports season would transpire, let alone happen. But with the stringent guidance from the Department of Health, and the go-ahead from Governor Phil Murphy, winter sports were given full permission to occur on a high school level, and Glen Rock used that approval to their full advantage. Different sports called for different rules and regulations to be put in place, but almost all sports experienced some level of change. However, according to the winter coaches of Glen Rock High School, these challenges and obstacles didn’t stop most of them from achieving many of their pre-season goals and rising as champions.

 

Girls Basketball

A sport that is well-known for its packed stadiums, tight-knit team practices, and the sharing of equipment – basketball, certainly prompted some hesitation toward achieving a successful season. But if it wasn’t for the perseverance and dedication that the girls had toward the sport, the season would have not had such a memorable ending. According to both junior varsity Coach Sara Wolman and varsity Coach Steve Grenz, the team had five players receive All-League honors, ranging from first team to honorable mention. They also had a player, Aly Novick, receive 3rd team All-County, which is a great accomplishment for a small school like Glen Rock. Finally, they had a senior, Isabella Mittelman commit to playing basketball at Ithaca College next year. 

“Overall, I think despite a lot of challenges and frustrations, the players will come out stronger for this experience,” said Woloman. 

There was no post season this year due to COVID-19 and neither was there a league championship or a county tournament. The team was allowed fifteen games maximum but only played twelve varsity and ten JV because they had to shut down for two weeks. 

“Success this year is difficult to measure in terms of wins and losses because the two week shut down inhibited the flow of the season and separately we had players in and out of quarantine,” said Grenz. “Given the unpredictable and challenging season, the players did really well and collectively and individually improved. We had some really nice victories this year.”

In terms of regulations that coincided with COVID-19 measures, the girls had to accommodate to completing a health screening on a daily basis, stating they were symptom free and unexposed to anyone who was COVID positive. Everyone wore masks during practice at all times except when getting water. Though not required, many players chose to wear masks during games as well. During games, players were seated six feet apart on the sideline or bleachers. It was noted that having the “bench” on the home bleachers was also a drastic change this year. Finally, the team did not high five or huddle up and upon exiting the gym, everyone had to sanitize their hands. 

Unfortunately, due to the requirements of the state in terms of containing COVID-19, the team could not indulge in annual fun festivities that boost morale and the sisterhood of the athletes. 

“We could not have a Christmas tournament, which the girls look forward to every year, nor county or state tournaments,” said Woloman. “The players also couldn’t have team dinners, which are a great opportunity for team building.”

Varsity senior, Aly Novick, practices with her team both free throws and rebounds in preparation for their game against Hawthorne on March 5, 2021. In this picture, Novick is unbeknownst that she will score a total of 17 points in that game, proving herself a colossal benefactor in Glen Rock’s win with a score of 54-22. (Photo Credit: Simon Toffell)

To add on to the COVID-19 doldrums, the team had to adjust to an unpredictable set of obstacles in terms of practicing and regulating their schedule. The team was allowed 15 games maximum but only played 12 for the varsity and ten for the JV because they had to shut down for two weeks. With that, the girls only played five different opponents in the league tournament this year, whereas in a typical year, they would play seven. They versed two different league opponents than they normally did and only three of their regular league competitors. To top that off, there were no country or state tournaments. They scheduled some independent games but that was difficult as there were limited options with teams shut down for quarantining. 

However, there was reason to smile in the face of all the darkness COVID-19 had entrusted upon. Practices were essentially run as they would have in a normal season and the coaches provided the athletes with the same feedback as they would have received in any year. And even though, for the majority of the season no fans were allowed, home games were all live streamed and many away games were as well. In the last week of the season, 2 parents per player were allowed to come into the gym to spectate and had to check in prior to entering the gym.

“The live stream component was a nice addition. Moving forward it will enable parents and fans to watch if they are unable to get to the game,” said Woloman. “It also allows us to capture game footage without having a player film.”

The coaches made it clear that with the shortened season, they had little time to teach our full repertoire of offense and defense and had to do a lot on the fly. The goal of the season was to play games so a lot of the focus was on staying healthy and knowing the basics. Thankfully they had an experienced senior class who could play well without as much time to prepare as usual. The freshmen class was also strong and picked things up quickly. Another challenge was that there was no playoff goal to aim toward.

“It was definitely a challenge knowing that everything could change with one text or phone call at any given moment,” said Grenz. “I’ve never coached or played a season where you simply play all your games and then it ends. I think this was an unsettling aspect for the athletes as well.”

Overall, the girls showed adversity and courage in strange and intimidating situations. They managed to complete a season, in many intervals, and have achieved various victories while enjoying the fellowship and sisterhood that the sport brings them. 

“I am really proud of all of our players and how they faced this unprecedented adversity. Though they may have been frustrated, they did not let it show or affect the level of their play,” said Woloman. “I’m particularly impressed with our group of 4 seniors and the grit and leadership they demonstrated.”

 

Boys Basketball

A sport that normally stresses brotherhood, fraternity, and a close bond between the players, did not receive much of these qualities due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Jason Mittleman, long-time head varsity boys basketball coach, claimed that losing these qualities were stressful, but the boys persevered.

“They weren’t perfect; but they clearly made an effort and the ends justified the means,” said Mittleman.

The team suffered a monotonous list of mandates and regulations from both the state and the NJSIAA. Protocols included that players and coaching staff had to complete a daily health check through an app before arriving to practices and game, coaches had to wear masks at all times, and players had to wear masks when arriving to, and leaving from the gym, and on buses to and from games. They also had to wear masks when not participating in vigorous activity. For example during games, players had to wear masks when sitting on the bench. The bench area also had to be laid out differently to keep everyone as socially distanced as possible. Referees were not going to physically touch the basketball, meaning no jump ball to start the game. It was replaced by a coin flip. Players would also have to inbound the ball, and administer foul shots on their own at the instructions of the officials, but the officials would not be providing the ball to the player. Additionally, there was the prohibited use of locker rooms at home games or away games and of classrooms for meetings of any kind, including pre-game, half time, and/or post game meetings.

It was an adjustment, for sure, both for staff and the players. Eventually you get into a rhythm and it wasn’t as difficult as anticipated,” said Mittleman. “You want to keep everyone safe and healthy first and foremost. Simultaneously you’re trying to make it through the fifteen game schedule trying to balance providing all the players with a positive experience while winning games.”

The team certainly, like any other sport, was brought upon challenges and obstacles that forced them out of their comfort zones. Regulations such as not meeting in classrooms before games, during halftime, or after games and not being able to meet before or after a practice for film study or strategy were adjustments. However, the team utilized the essence of Zoom more than any other sport. They were able to review film, scouting, and conduct team meetings at an easier and more convenient pace and manner, though the aspect of in-person meetings was missed. Zoom is one beneficiary that will certainly continue beyond COVID-19 for the basketball team.

Unfortunately, the team shared in the loss of time and practice due to COVID-19, much like many of the other sports.

“After our 7th practice, we had a positive test on the varsity team that, despite all of our efforts, put our team in a 2-week quarantine. It is a tribute to the flexibility of our players, their parents, and our athletic director, that we were able to reschedule missed games, and/or find new opponents and still get all 15 games in,” said Mittleman.

With that, the sport did not have fans. However, like most sports, all of our varsity games were streamed, so fans could watch the games from a computer, tablet, or phone. Towards the end of the season the state approved limited fans. For home games, Glen Rock approved two parents per player for home games; no away fans were permitted to attend games at the high school.

The basketball team usually does things together as a program to build their culture and brotherhood. Summer workouts, followed by a get together at the coaches’ home when summer training concludes, JV and Varsity practicing together, players going out together to grab a bite after a game, players attending the games of program members from a different team , attending a local college game as a program are just a few of many things the team indulges in outside of the court. 

“All of those things are a big part of what we do,” said Mittleman. “It’s usually one big program, and this season was more like 3 separate teams.”

Despite the challenges, the team was able to rack up quite a record for the 2020 season. They managed to get in all fifteen varsity games, go undefeated in the division and eventually, win the division outright. Due to COVID-19 there were no state playoffs. But, they finished 13-2 overall, and 9-0 in the NJIC Division 1 and won the NJIC “Division 1.”

Overall, the basketball team, like most sports, had its fair share of challenges. Among the protocols, the team had to deal with practice space, time stressors, and maintaining a physically healthy team just as much as a psychologically. But they managed to overcome their adversities and come together at a time where the world was stressing everyone to stay apart.