With basketball season at the high school level wrapped up, it is important that we commemorate the spirit our players showed this season. The struggles that our teams went through in order to stay safe and continue to compete on the state level cannot be understated. When asked what her initial expectations of this season were, Keria Tate, a senior at Liberty County High School and member of the girls’ basketball team had this to say, “My expectations going into my senior year while playing basketball during the pandemic I knew that there would be challenges that I would have to face. While playing basketball during the pandemic, it is quite difficult to keep your distance, or prevent from being exposed so I knew that would be a risk that I took coming into the season.” Unfortunately for the girls’ basketball team, they would be exposed to COVID twice in the season. “Once we reached a winning streak, we got exposed to COVID and had to quarantine twice. Both the break from the court and the break from my teammates was devastating,” writes Aliyah Guilfo, one of the team captains for the girls’ basketball team. They did not let the limited practice and cancelled games get them down, however the girl’s team placed second in the region and made it to the state playoffs.
For Julian Stokes, coach of the boys’ basketball team at Liberty County High School, COVID has affected the boy’s team in a similar way. “Biggest challenge is not being able to have everyone in one place. Some challenges can come into play when some of the student athletes are home while others are in school.” When asked about what the toughest set back was, Stokes explained, “Injuries, inexperience, and going on quarantine. Our roster took a lot of hits with injury knocking out some of our main guys for the season. Most of them being the more experienced players which is always good to have when players are returning. Despite the injuries though it gave younger players a chance to play at the Varsity level and I think we learned a lot as a team in those regards.” Unfortunately the boy’s team did not move on in competition. “Covid was the reason our season ended. Our team went on quarantine two times in less than a month toward the end of the season and me myself going on quarantine three times over the course of the season. Having to sit for two weeks with no action is tough to bounce back from when you are normally active 5-6 days out the week.” It is not all bad news however. “My proudest accomplishment is still finding ways to keep our guys motivated to play. It has been a pretty rough season but seeing my guys not quit on me and continue to give their best effort everyday was a joy for me,” which shows the amount of passion and hard work these players put into their game. COVID has been difficult for everyone and for the teams to continue playing through these times exemplifies the work ethic and care these players bolster.
The basketball teams were not the only ones affected by the change. For spectators of the sport, the effect COVID had could be felt in the room. “There’s not as much cheer with the crowd. It is not hyped up; it's more of you’re just there to watch and you leave right after,” stated Kyra Caldwell, cheerleader for Liberty County High School. “On the court, players are more cautious. The teams have been quarantined so much it is like you’re scared to touch another person, to be around the other person,” she continued. Liberty County High has been adamant about their precautions with the audience, making sure every other row is skipped and seats are spaced. Debbie Parker, media specialist at Liberty County High School, added, “The amount of students going out to support their classmates were low and the game did not feel as exciting. Morale was low because nobody was hyping the players up.” While these precautions are necessary for the safety of staff and students, for the audience the changes are palpable.
While this basketball season has challenged everyone involved, it is a return to normalcy which is something many people have not felt since the pandemic began. It is important for a community to come together in this way while maintaining safety because when people come together, we all heal. For the students, the ability to participate in their sport has allowed them to maintain social interaction, relieve stress, and bring a schedule back into their day. The perseverance of the basketball teams show that basketball is more than a game. It means a great deal to the students who are involved and to the community that has come together to spectate both the game itself and the hope it has sparked.