The thumping sound of basketballs hitting the hardwood floor echoed through the Kodiak High School gymnasium on Monday afternoon.
Prep basketball was back in session.
For the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic halted the 2019-20 season nearly a year ago, teams across Alaska returned to the gym to tip the 2021 campaign.
“It is a good feeling to get them going,” Kodiak boys coach David Anderson said. “The kids enjoy it. The toughest thing is that if we do anything that is strenuous, wearing the mask is the hardest part for them.”
As part of the district’s mitigation plan, players and coaches must wear face coverings — even during drills. On Monday, nobody complained — they were thrilled the season, which typically begins in early December, started.
“It is just nice to see kids in the gym,” the district’s activities director Debbie Rohrer said. “It’s been so long, or at least it feels that way.”
While the district is in “green” status, 24 players and six coaches are allowed in the gym. If the district returns to “red” status, only six players and three coaches would be permitted in the gym. The mitigation plan also allows for 30 minutes to air out the gym between the girls’ and boys’ practices.
The girls practice on Monday had 19 players, while the boys had 18 players at practice. However, a new set of boys were at Tuesday’s practice. In a typical year, more than 50 boys tryout for the team. Anderson is expecting far less this season.
“Right now, we are just seeing what kind of skill set these kids have and where we are going to put them at,” Anderson said. “Some of the kids after Monday and today will be asked to come back Wednesday so we can relook at them.”
Games can begin on Jan. 19. However, Kodiak will not be playing in January because of travel restrictions.
“As long as the (COVID) numbers in Kodiak continue to decline, I think we have some better chances at getting games in,” Rohrer said. “But other teams in our region right now are not allowed to travel outside of their area, either.”
The Northern Lights Conference houses Kodiak, Soldotna, Wasilla, Palmer and Colony. Rohrer said that teams in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough School District and the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District are only allowed to play in-district, but that restriction would be looked at as the season goes on. Kodiak is not in either district.
“The difference obviously for us is they at least have teams in their area that they can drive to,” Rohrer said.
As of now, the first game for Kodiak’s boys and girls would be on Feb. 12. The Northern Lights Conference Championship is slated for March 18-20 at Colony. The 4A state championship March 25-27 at the Alaska Airlines Center in Anchorage.
Rohrer said January was mostly filled with nonconference games, which made it easier to adjust schedules.
Anderson is hopeful to be playing games by the end of February after last year’s season ended before the regional tournament. He said it would not be difficult to keep his players motivated in a season where games are not guaranteed.
“This group of kids is focused and have the right attitude,” Anderson said.