High Schools: Franklin County programs begin winter practices, in a variety of ways

Staff Writer
Published: 1/11/2021 8:20:33 PM
Modified: 1/11/2021 8:20:11 PM

After months of planning by the state, local school boards and boards of health, high school teams in Western Massachusetts were permitted by the Pioneer Valley Interscholastic Athletic Conference (PVIAC) to begin practices for the winter sports season on Monday.

The PVIAC marked Jan.21 as the earliest start date for games and events, but the first group of basketball contests in the Franklin County Bubble aren’t currently slated to begin until Jan. 26. Hockey is slated to begin Jan. 23.

Pioneer Valley Regional was one of the local schools that took to the hardwood for the first time Monday, but like all programs trying to navigate through the changes and new protocols, it was a big time learning experience.

“It feels great to be back practicing and it’s awesome to be back in the gym,” Pioneer boys basketball coach Scott Thayer said. “It certainly wasn’t perfect; kids are kids and we’ll just have to keep reminding them about the distancing and all the protocols. I’m glad we got to start though, we’ll go from here and do the best we can with it. I’m sure the kids were just happy to have a ball back in their hands.”

Monday’s practice at Pioneer didn’t resemble any other practice Thayer has conducted with his team prior to this season. The session began with each player partnering with another, staying with them through each drill in an attempt to limit exposure to other teammates.

Players then went through a warmup while spread out around the court, followed by ball-handling drills while being spaced out before shooting drills with each partner using the same ball. The team did some sprints and defensive slides in an attempt to get in shape, with the season right around the corner.

“We’re all learning what works and what doesn’t work,” Thayer said. “We’re going to have some hiccups along the way doing it. I told our kids when you learn to do something, you usually don’t do it right the first time so we just have to keep practicing with it. We’re learning all these protocols that are in place, where the sanitizer is, where the one bathroom they can use is. It’s just different. We’re just getting into some conditioning now when during a normal season, we’d be at the midway point right now.”

Though the initial gathering might not have been like the practices of old, and much of the time was spent on going through protocols and reminding his players of them, Thayer said he was happy to be back out with his team while having the opportunity to give his players an outlet during this challenging year.

“It’s great for these kids to be in the gym,” Thayer said. “They get some needed exercise with all the anxiety and stress and isolation they’re going through. It’s great for them to be with their friends and do the stuff they would normally be doing as a high school teenager with so much that’s been ripped away from them. We’re going to try our best and today was better than nothing.”

For coaches at Greenfield High School, the wait to see players in person will continue at least another week.

Green Wave winter teams won’t begin practicing in person until Jan. 19, instead holding virtual practices this week.

“It was still great to see their faces,” Greenfield girls basketball coach John Hickey said. “We’ll be doing it virtually a few times this week to get some things out of the way and get going on things. We’re doing all we can do now and just trying to be positive about it.”

With many changes coming to the game this season geared toward the health and safety of players, coaches must now explain to players how things will be done in the COVID-19 world of basketball. That will range from aspects of the game, all the way to how they’ll be sitting on benches. Hickey used the virtual time on Monday to go over protocols with his players, hoping to get all the administrative business out of the way so they can hit the ground running once they are able to get together in the gym.

In the meantime, Hickey said he is coming up with ways to get work done at home. He has a set of at-home skills and drills that his players can participate in, while also getting them to begin conditioning.

With masks having to be worn by players at all times on the hardwood this winter — whether on the court or not — Hickey said he is having his team do their virtual conditioning with masks on to get them ready for the season. He plans to ramp up conditioning as the season nears, another change to the way things have been done in the past.

Hickey understands his team is antsy to take the court, but made sure to express to them that the season will only go well if they follow all the rules put in place.

“You can tell they’re ready to go,” Hickey said. “They don’t express it but you can just tell they’re ready. They want some answers, anything can change at any moment. Our message today was to spread the word to kids to sign up, start doing some conditioning and skills and drills on your own and really take the social distancing seriously. We told them if they want a full season to be played, it’s going to be up to them. If they don’t follow the protocols put in place, it could crumble real fast.”




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