The West Virginia Secondary School Activities Commission announced COVID-related guidelines for winter sports on Thursday, and those guidelines are pretty much what several high school basketball coaches expected as they get set to open practice for an already unusual 2020 season next month.
For swimming and especially wrestling, that means some significant changes are in order. For boys and girls basketball, however, the modifications are mostly minimal.
Noteworthy among the changes for hoops is the elimination of the jump ball. Under the new guidelines for the 2020 season, the visiting team will be awarded the opening possession of the game and given the opportunity to inbound the ball.
“I saw another state [get rid of the jump ball], and when I saw that I was like, ‘It’ll probably come down to us too.’” St. Albans boys coach Bryan England said Thursday. “I can see — we’re all standing there in a circle and the kids, the referee — three or four people really close to each other. I can understand that, but they’re playing against each other the whole game. There are going to be adjustments and things [the WVSSAC has] probably thought through, and they’re seeing it a certain way that we haven’t. I’m kind of approaching this season just like every adjustment that is made and every guideline that comes out changes the way that we’ve done things in the past, we just need to embrace it and make the best of it. [We will] change the game plan up a little bit. When we go on the road, we better have a nice sideline out of bounds set to start the game, and when we’re at home we better be able to defend right away. I’m pretty neutral about [the changes]. I’m embracing whatever comes along. ”
First-year North Marion boys coach Steve Harbert also said he heard about jump balls being eliminated in other states and figured that would soon be the case in West Virginia as well.
“I think the reason they’re doing that is that’s really the only time in a game when the official is really face to face with those guys,” Harbert said. “They’re trying to create spacing.”
For Harbert, Thursday’s announced guidelines do not present any surprises but add another unusual layer to what has been anything but a normal first year as the Huskies’ head coach. Harbert, an assistant coach for the North football team who has also split times as an assistant for the boys and girls basketball programs over the last decade at NM, was announced as the new Huskies’ boys coach in June.
On top of all the uncertainty and flexibility required in the COVID era of high school sports, Harbert also has to face all the challenges that come with being a first-year head coach.
“You have all these guidelines and a bunch of restrictions, and you’re just trying to do the right things and get things going the way you want them to go,” Harbert said Thursday. “There are a bunch of obstacles, but we’ll be OK.”
Harbert joked that former North coach Chris Freeman picked a good time to step down.
“[Freeman] saw me around campus at football practice and he’s like, “Hey, good luck,” and kind of patted me on the shoulder,” Harbert said. “I told him, because his wife works at the health department, ‘Did you know something was going on here?’ just teasing him.”
Other notable changes incoming for West Virginia high school basketball will be the elimination of handshakes between teams before and after games and face coverings for coaches on the sidelines.
“I’ve seen some chippy stuff in handshake lines before,” England said. “I kind of like the way the NBA does it sometimes where you get done, tip your hat and just walk to the locker room. I think [the handshake line is] good from an aspect of teaching your kids sportsmanship win or lose — you shake hands and be respectful — but I can completely understand them not wanting that to happen at this point.
“The face coverings are going to be a big adjustment for myself. We’ve all had to adjust to that in our professional lives anyway, but I think part of what may help that is the fact that the gyms are not going to be filled up with people. The hardest part about coaching basketball is the rowdy gym — of course, we all love to coach in rowdy gyms — and not being able to communicate. With a face covering, you’re not going to be able to do [yell over a crowd] but we’re not going to have gyms at capacity so it shouldn’t be quite as much of a deal. Other than that, I probably like most of the other coaches. I’m pretty neutral on it. I’ll just embrace what they bring [us] and am thankful we get a chance to play.”