Masks On Before Tip-Off: Here's What High School Basketball Looks Like During COVID-19.

Feb 15, 2021

In the first varsity basketball game of the year, the gym was so quiet and the crowd so sparse, Auburn High School junior guard Robert Chaney could hear his mom yelling from the stands. 


The Knights came out slow but cruised to a blowout win against Guilford. Basketball is usually the longest sports season of the year. Get into a shooting slump? No big deal, shoot out of it, and be your best when the games really matter. Now, it’s one of the shortest seasons -- only about four weeks -- so Chaney says they have to keep their heads down.


"We got to focus in practice, so we can get through everything and not spend a lot of time on one thing, stressing one thing out,” said Chaney, whose 14 points-per-game leads the team.


Every game, home team players get two tickets for family, limiting the crowd to 50 in gyms that fit upwards of 1,600. 


Since basketball is considered a higher-risk sport, teams only play within their region and there’s no state tournament -- just a conference title on the line.


Head coach Bryan Ott says the flow of the game isn't too different. They still crash the boards and fight for loose balls. The biggest difference is the mask break every quarter, which functions as an extra timeout. Players keep their masks on the whole game. Ott says they’ve been serious about masks in practice too, running them if they don’t keep it over their nose.


There’s no jump ball, which he says must be so the refs can keep a social distance. Coaches also do temperature checks when their players come in from outside the school. 


IDPH sports safety guidelines say attendees should refrain from high-fives and fist bumps, but Chaney says they didn’t know that, and nobody policed it.


In January, when Governor J.B. Pritzker gave the OK for all sports to start, it caught Ott off guard. 


“When we got past Christmas, and we're heading towards New Year’s, and there's no word on anything, my perspective I said, ‘Well if they don't do something quick, we're gonna run out of days to have a season,'” he said.


After the announcement, the Knights only had a few days to hold tryouts and then have a few practices before the season tipped off. They’ve played three games so far in a season that’ll only last about four weeks -- where any positive COVID cases could be devastating. 


They’ve already had one player quarantine for a few days, but have yet to have a positive test.


The National Federation of State High School Associations also installed new cameras to stream the games. Fans can pay $10.99 a month instead of shelling out $5 at the door in a normal year.