Here’s hoping that it was worth the wait.
As the high school postseason starts in Ohio this weekend, the student-athletes of West Virginia embark on their own chapter of winter sports Monday as practices officially begins for wrestling, boys and girls basketball, swimming and cheerleading.
Due to the current coronavirus pandemic, prep sports have been on hiatus in the Mountain State since around Thanksgiving.
That changes Monday, Feb. 15, when high schools throughout West Virginia open their gymnasium doors to student-athletes for the beginning of an abbreviated winter sports season.
The challenges in just reaching this point have already been felt, rather it be student-athletes waiting for the sport that they love or coaches simply trying to keep interest up through the down time.
Girls basketball, wrestling and swimming can officially start their regular seasons on Wednesday, March 3, while boys basketball begins two nights later on Friday.
With roughly 2-plus weeks to prepare for regular season openers, Point Pleasant wrestling coach John Bonecutter noted that it’s been challenging for him and his staff as they prepare to defend their Class AA-A championship.
“We are very excited to get the opportunity to compete again. We’ve been counting down the days,” Bonecutter said. “It’s extremely frustrating to be honest though. We look across the river and see that high school kids in Ohio are wrestling each week and we can’t. It’s been tough for our wrestlers, our parents and our coaches, but our time is coming. Getting started will be a big boost for everyone.”
Hannan girls basketball coach Kellie Thomas shared most of those sentiments, including the desire to get the kids back to playing games — and the headaches that have come along with it.
“We are very excited to get back to basketball, although we only have 14 games scheduled within the time frame,” Thomas said. “Sitting idle was a real challenge for both me and the kids. It’s tough knowing that we should be getting ready for sectional play had this been a ‘normal’ basketball season. We’ve also lost a good bit of our schedule because of Ohio teams playing through things and being in tournament play now. I’ve had to redo the schedule three different times through all of this just to get to 14 games. It’s been a nightmare in that sense.”
Teams in any sport, except cheerleading, will have roughly five weeks of regular season to work with before tournament plays starts on April 10.
The Class AA-A wrestling tournament will be held on April 21 and April 22, while the girls basketball tournament is slated to start on April 27. Boys basketball will start the process of crowning state champions on May 4.
The cheerleading state tournament is tentatively slated for March 20 as well.
Even as things return to a bit of normalcy, winter coaches are also left to battle concerns about possible coronavirus outbreaks — and the potential setbacks that come with having to quarantine during a shortened season.
”The guidelines in place are going to be tough. Mask wearing on the bench, limited number of fans in the gym watching these kids will obviously affect them,” Thomas said. “However, we have and will adhere to the safety guidelines so we can get our season in and the seniors can play the sport that they love to play.”
Bonecutter also acknowledges that coronavirus guidelines present another challenge, but it’s one that his program is making preparations for. Like Thomas, he wants a season for his kids.
“It’s definitely going to be different. We are trying our best to be a safe as possible,” Bonecutter said. “We think we have a good plan in place, but like Mike Tyson said “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” We’re just hoping we don’t get punched too hard.”
There is also another underlying factor to consider in all of this. West Virginia begins spring sports practices on March 15, less than two weeks after the first games of winter are played. Spring sports also start their regular season contests on April 12.
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Bryan Walters can be reached at 740-446-2342, ext. 2101.