As we approach the mid-point of the 2021 high school basketball season, the first major impact of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic — beyond the players having to compete while wearing masks — has arisen.
Currently three boys teams in the county — Piedmont, Weddington and Forest Hills — are under quarantine and will be unable to practice or play until late next week at the earliest. This is the second quarantine stint for Piedmont, which has only played three games this season compared to the six or seven most other schools around the county have under their belt.
Piedmont’s latest quarantine was caused by a positive test reported in the program. The Warriors were subsequently put into quarantine via contact tracing after they defeated the Panthers, 76-25, at home last week.
“It is frustrating, but obviously we knew coming into the season that this could be a possibility,” said Weddington head coach Gary Ellington. “It’s just something you have to deal with. Lucky for us, we have a very mature group of guys. For me, the key will be them not losing their conditioning ... It is what it is.”
The Warriors — who are currently the county’s only undefeated team at 6-0 — will have three of their games moved to the end of the season. Weddington’s game against Cuthbertson, which was originally scheduled for Tuesday, will now be played on Saturday, Feb. 13. Weddington will return to action Feb. 4 against Sun Valley.
Weddington will have one game canceled outright because of the quarantine — its second meeting with Monroe. The Redhawks are the only team this season to come within 10 points of the Warriors (52-43 loss on Jan. 8), but head coach Johnny Sowell’s team won’t get its chance to avenge in the regular season.
With the number of playoff teams cut back this season because of COVID-19, a missed game for a bubble team like Monroe could mean the difference between earning a postseason berth and watching the state tournament from home.
“You have to figure out what’s going to be best and figure out if you can fit a game in or whether it’s worth fitting a game in,” Ellington said. “If you end up playing three games in four days, is that beneficial to your team? Does it give you a chance to make the playoffs or does it hurt your chance to make the playoffs? I think it’s something teams are having to think about that you’ve never had before.”
Another team grappling with the realities of COVID-19 right now is Forest Hills, which entered quarantine this week after one of its players tested positive for the virus. This season, only one team from the Rocky River Conference will win an automatic bid to the 2A state tournament.
The Yellow Jackets are currently 5-1, with their lone loss coming to current RRC leader West Stanly (7-0, 5-0 RRC). Forest Hills was originally going to play the Colts again on Friday, but the game has been postponed and a new date for the game has yet to be announced.
“We knew it was a high possibility at some point that this would happen,” Forest Hills coach Matt Sides said. “We’re in the middle of a global pandemic and we’re playing a contact sport where it’s virtually impossible not to come in contact with COVID. Hopefully it’s a little adversity our guys can fight through and when we come back hopefully we can build on that momentum.”
The Yellow Jackets won the 2A state title in 2018 and made the state semifinals again last year, but Forest Hills could be in danger of missing out on the postseason depending on how the rest of the year plays out and whether or not there are more postponements and cancelations brought on by COVID-19.
“We’re in that boat, too, in terms of trying to hopefully get back and play enough to give us a chance to compete for a playoff spot,” Sides said. “There’s a lot of uncertainty right now. Hopefully our guys just play it safe and use the time off to get a little better if they can.”