MANCHESTER — Winter sports were the first affected by the coronavirus pandemic back in March, canceling winter championships throughout Vermont. What has followed over the past 10 months has been unprecedented.
On the Burr and Burton campus, some normalcy has finally emerged. Practices have returned across campus.
“I was very excited to get back in the gym,” said BBA girls basketball player Alair Powers. “Even though things are different, I think it’s been very beneficial playing.”
Gov. Phil Scott gave the green light for school-based and youth recreational programs to begin practicing with individual skills, strength and conditioning on Dec. 26.
BBA was the lone local school to begin its season before the new year.
Powers’ teammate Carol Herbert was surprised when BBA was able to get back on the court on Dec. 28.
“I wasn’t expecting to get in the gym this early,” Herbert said. “I’ve been really grateful to just touch a basketball.”
BBA girls basketball coach Erin Mears has seen the excitement through the team’s first two weeks.
“They’re just so happy to be in the gym,” she said.
Each team at BBA began its season like it normally would on Nov. 30, the scheduled start date for winter sports across the state. With the delayed start to the season, instead of going through tryouts and practices, the first four weeks were spent working out and participating in team-bonding activities virtually.
BBA dance coach Whitney Thibodeaux said getting back into the season has been refreshing for both the athletes and the coaches.
“It definitely kind of lifted spirits a little bit,” Thibodeaux said. “Once we were back in the gym, it just felt good to see each other face to face.”
Trying to instill a culture within a team has its challenges with the social distancing measures in place. At BBA, the coaches have faced those challenges head-on.
“The first week was just building culture and having the girls get to know each other and playing games on Zoom,” Mears said. “We did some topic discussions on Zoom, so it’s just getting creative this year and figuring out how to build culture without being together.”
Bill Muench is the new boys basketball coach for the Bulldogs, but he’s definitely not a new face to the program, having coached on and off at Burr and Burton since the early 1990s. Starting fresh in a year with so many restrictions, however, Muench has found it difficult to build that team comradery so far.
“The toughest part is building the team community,” Muench said. “I can’t buy a round of pizzas for the boys.”
The maximum number of people allowed in the gym at one time is 25. With more than 30 boys trying out for the team, BBA had to split up teams into sectioned blocks to remain under the maximum occupancy at all times.
That caused tryouts to look a little different in the world of COVID. Coaches said knowing the basketball community in and around BBA helped them make decisions through tryouts.
“Luckily, it’s a smaller community,” Mears said. “I’ve seen a lot of these girls play. At the middle school level, I’ve gone to games, and I’m at every JV game as well. We really went with who was fundamentally ready to take that next step.”
With contact currently not allowed, coaches focus heavily on the fundamentals of the game.
“I’ve been doing this long enough that I can run drills and I can see who can catch, who can pass and who can compete,” Muench said.
One major adjustment for athletes is wearing the mask indoors. Even after playing fall sports, wearing the mask inside a gymnasium is a different experience.
“It’s definitely different, I mean in soccer I was in a very heavily running position, but it’s different because there isn’t as much airflow and it’s pretty hot,” said Powers, a senior midfielder for the Bulldogs this fall.
Boys basketball player Madox Mathews was a member of the BBA boys soccer team, so he also has a season under his belt wearing the mask while competing.
“It’s a lot more difficult,” Mathews said. “My mask got like, 10 times sweatier. There’s not a lot of fresh air, it’s a little harder to breathe, but we’re getting used to it little by little.”
Masks are forcing coaches to learn on the fly, as well.
“[It’s hard to figure out] which kid needs a hug, and which kid needs a kick in the [butt],” Muench asked. “I don’t know that.”
There is currently no guidance on when games will begin.
“I wanted to get back on the court, because I just like the game,” said senior boys basketball player Brandon Burns.