Now that the LHSAA’s Prep Classic football championships are in the books and a new year has finally begun, the next step is a sprint toward winter events in February and March. Right?
Instead, expect a careful march forward as the LHSAA’s winter sports teams take center stage.
Yes, 2020 is finally over, but the struggle to figure out how to move forward with prep sports during the novel coronavirus pandemic continues.
There are multiple cases to cite. The LHSAA’s indoor track season begins Saturday with LSU’s High School Classic. LSU will host four indoor meets in the weeks ahead, which is cause for celebration.
Whispers about not having an indoor track season were common at the LHSAA’s cross country meet in November. McNeese State's facilities were badly damaged by two hurricanes, which makes meets there impossible. Several Texas schools canceled meets.
LSU came through for the LHSAA … but with conditions. No fans are allowed in the Carl Maddox Field House. There will be sanitation protocols.
Basketball, soccer and wrestling have been making their way through the pandemic since their seasons began late last fall. Teams have faced quarantines either because of positive tests or contact tracing.
Ahead of the first basketball game I covered I learned that one of the head coaches had tested positive. Other coaches have told me their stories and their team’s stories. Soccer teams and wrestling teams have the same stories.
As COVID-19 cases rise, so do concerns about not being able to complete seasons. Or if they are completed, will fans be allowed to attend games.
To date, no cases of COVID-19 being based from one athlete to another have been cited. That is a good thing, but the health of others, including family members and coaches remain.
Basketball provides the best snapshot of how things are going. Since the start of the season, 114 games in the Baton Rouge area have been canceled. As of Monday, the total of statewide games lost was 739 through Tuesday, said LHSAA assistant executive director Karen Hoyt, who coordinates basketball.
With about 800 boys/girls teams across the state, that total may not seem too high, but it is significant. Assignment secretaries like Harry Jenkins of the Baton Rouge Area Basketball Officials Association get calls each week about COVID-related cancelations.
“The season has changed and continues to change,” Jenkins said. “Our hope is that teams can continue to play and that we can finish the season.”
The situation for wrestling may be perhaps the most intriguing. Because of close contact, wrestling has always involved more mitigation than other sports.
Wrestlers and their coaches knew about hand sanitizer and the importance of wiping down maps, etc., before COVID-19 was a thing for the rest of us.
But like their basketball counterparts, handling capacity for indoor events is tough. Factoring in a larger number of competitors and balancing that number with fans is not easy.
With that said, Catholic High will host the Louisiana Classic at the Lamar Dixon Center in Gonzales on Jan. 15-16. It will be the first attempt at a large wrestling meet and controls will be in place.
Catholic coach Tommy Prochaska notes that no fans will be allowed Friday because there will be such a large number of wrestlers competing. A limited number of fans will be allowed Saturday and they will be seated in socially distanced chairs.
Also on tap this week is a meeting with the Raising Cane’s River Center, which is scheduled to host the LHSAA Wrestling tournament Feb. 26-27. Fans and other logistics will have to be hammered out.
Winter championships may seem a long way off. In reality, they are not. But as COVID-19 cases rise, a familiar question is on everyone’s mind.
"I just hope get the chance to finish," Prochaska said.
All the coaches and athletes certainly long to finish. Like it or not, that is still an open-ended question.