The start of this belated, abbreviated, coronavirus-hit basketball season came with another condition: players and coaches across Northern Virginia would have to wear masks for drills and games according to a rule set by Fairfax, Loudoun, Prince William and Arlington counties.

The first games were played with a reminder of a longstanding, national and highly political debate. If it’s a condition of playing basketball at all, coaches surveyed in Northern Virginia seem happy to do so.

“Every time I’m ready to throw my hands in the air and say, ‘This is crazy,” said Potomac coach Keith Honore, “I remember it beating the alternative. “

On December 10, the day Governor Ralph Northam issued an expanded mask mandate, the VHSL announced it would uphold the recommendations of the Virginia Department of Health and the American Academy of Pediatrics to require players in all sports except gymnastics, and wrestling Wearing swimming masks.

On December 14th, the VHSL lifted this rule and instead dictated that masks were “strongly encouraged but not required”. But soon after, school districts in Fairfax, Loudoun, Prince William, and Arlington counties were advising their schools that players would eventually have to wear masks during drills and games.

“The VHSL is somewhat similar to the baseline – it sets the basic standard that everyone must follow,” said Derek Farrey, director of high school athletics for Loudoun County. “As a local school department, we can’t be less restrictive, but we can be more restrictive.”

In the past two weeks, Virginia High School basketball with masks has moved on, largely out of a desire for it to move in the first place. What began as a point of contention – Farrey noted that masks are “obviously a sensitive issue” and acknowledged hearing concerns from some parents – has become a routine part of the game.

Initially, there was concern about the need for masks during strenuous exercise. Now the mask has become such a fixture that Washington-Liberty coach Bobby Dobson said in a recent game that a player’s mask was removed in a tie and each player looked at him in awe – “Oh, my goodness, the mask is off. ‘”

For two weeks of basketball, the masks seem to be somewhere between a non-factor and a burden. Players sometimes lower their masks when exiting the game to take a few extra breaths. Andre Speight, a senior in South County, said he usually doesn’t notice the mask, but has difficulty breathing after successive quick pauses.

“At first I didn’t think it was going to be that bad, but I was actually surprised that it was hard to breathe,” Speight said.

Half a dozen coaches trying on prearranged masks are far from ideal, but everyone eagerly stuck to it as this was their ticket to basketball games.

“It’s a bit difficult for them to breathe consistently, but it’s something they want to work on,” said Mike Robinson, the South County boys’ basketball coach. “They know if there is something that will help them get through this season, they are ready to do it.”

“It’s not something I agree with or we as a team do agree with, but I really think this team would play in high heels if they were told,” said Bill Reynolds, the Loudoun Valley girls’ basketball coach. “They just want to play.”

Reynolds said he was opposed to the mask requirement because he was concerned that players had difficulty breathing but his team had not had such problems so far. He added that his players “have not once complained about wearing a mask”.

Some coaches questioned the consistency that masks are required to reduce airborne transmission but still hold games where players hold and bump each other. The school districts have now spoken out in favor of a mitigation strategy that will make a difference at the height of the pandemic.

The operational sentence of the Virginia Ministry of Health reads: “In times of significant COVID-19 activity, VDH strongly advises athletes to wear masks at all times during group training, competitions and on the sidelines.” The VHSL decided to use the loose wording of ” strongly advise ”to adhere to; The local counties adopted the more cautious interpretation.

Practicing in masks initially requires an obvious adjustment. Honore has asked him to lower their masks if they are having difficulty breathing. He also spoke to college coaches about what masks would help in this regard.

Some trainers tried expensive Under Armor and Dri Fit masks before finding out that blue surgical masks were best. Speight said he was having serious problems with the surgical masks and opted for a looser option.

In some cases, masks can even affect the way the game is played. South Lakes manager Mike Desmond said his team didn’t struggle with the masks in practice or games, but Washington-Liberty coach Bobby Dobson only held players for three to four minutes and traversed 15 bodies in the process. Some teams have also slowed down the pace to keep players fresh.

The other option is to rush to the opposite extreme and marginalize the opponent in the early stages. Yes, the idea of ​​using a security measure as a strategic asset was raised.

Even without a clear penalty for inconsistent mask use, the teams have largely adhered to it, according to coaches. According to Farrey, referees are not the “masked police” – since the National Federation of High Schools does not have a mask mandate, the mask is not part of the uniform. But trained police players and administrators police trainers.

“I know it’s not ideal for anyone,” Farrey said. “I think people get it and know that this is the only way to do it if you want to do it.”

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