HANOVER COUNTY, Va. -- When the world came to a near grinding halt back in March 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many people thought life would be back to some sort of normal by the fall.
Especially coaches and athletes whose sports seasons were cut short or erased altogether.
“You think when it first started back in March and April you think, oh there's no way,” Atlee basketball coach Rally Axselle said. “Life will be normal in November.”
We know now that normal is still a long way off.
Gavin Brailey, a senior at Atlee High School, has played sports his entire life.
Not having that outlet and not knowing the future took its toll on him both physically and mentally.
“I'm not trying to play basketball at the next level, so if my last game as a junior would have been my last game, it would have been awful not knowing that it was my last basketball game ever,” Brailey admitted. “I felt like I was missing a part of my life honestly because I was just sitting inside not doing anything with the quarantine. “
Several area high schools have taken on the challenge of having winter sports seasons which started earlier this month.
In Hanover County, schools began playing on January 4 and the start of an abbreviated season wasn't guaranteed until the first inbounds pass of the first game.
“Up until that day, it was just keep evaluating, keep listening to senior staff members, keep going through the process,” Atlee Athletic Director Ryan Molloy said. “When we got to kick off tryouts that afternoon it was like, OK it's here. Let's go.”
“I didn't think there was going to be a season, honestly,” Brailey added. “When we got the news that we would start January 4 I was really excited. We have a shortened season but at least we have a season.”
A season unlike any other.
Molloy walked us through some of the different precautions schools and teams are taking just to have a season.
"One of the biggest changes we have is currently, we're not allowed to use our locker rooms. We can't get in there for any practices or games. We've had to adjust. So when our athletes do come to practice, they are dressed and ready to go for practice. They have to bring their own water. They can find a mark here on the wall to show where they can stand and place their stuff. They're six feet apart or more for social distancing," he said. "For our benches, we have them all six feet apart. When the athletes check into a game, they can take their masks off while playing. When they check back out, they have to find their assigned seat and put their mask back on. The kids are in masks the entire time, both during games and practices."
Schools are also using UV Wands to help identify germs on basketballs and seats and the game personnel at the scorer's table are all distanced and sectioned off.
Another huge difference is having very limited fans.
But schools found ways to live stream events so people can watch from home.
It's a lot to go through, but everyone is willing to do this and so much more if it means having a season at all.
“Having missed most of the spring season, not really doing anything in the fall, the kids were ready and willing to do whatever it took to play,” Axselle said.
“We met with all the teams before the season and reminded them this is a responsibility and a privilege like no other,” Molloy added. “Whatever rules are in place, they've got to follow them. Whatever success is measured during the winter season will determine if we can continue on with the fall season and then continue on with the spring season. They know what to do and how to get it done.”
“I'm glad we get to and have a chance to play even if it's just the four teams in our county,” Brailey added. “It's still better than nothing.”
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