By Amani Rivers
William Penn Charter School
Imagine one day as a rising basketball star you found out you’ve contracted COVID-19.
A thousand thoughts are running through your mind all at once. But first things first. You’ve got to alert the team, school officials and classmates, and your family of your status.
This, according to the CDC, is contact tracing. It is the process that attempts to slow the spread of COVID-19 by letting people know that they may have been exposed to the contagion and should monitor their health and signs for the disease.
Not taking such precautionary steps could lead to what public health officials call a superspreader. Superspreaders are large gatherings such as weddings, concerts, funerals, dinner parties, and sporting events where a single infection can spur large outbreaks among attendees.
To a large extent, basketball, a contact sport, also can be a superspreader, even though we don’t think about it as such.
Everything about the game involves contact. There are a lot of bumping and physicality in the lane among players as they try to establish and maintain advantageous positions on the court. Now, public health officials and COVID guidelines threaten the game at its core and can affect programs at the high school and collegiate levels.
Last year, the City of Philadelphia put out a ruling that reads in part: “The team, including coaches, is considered a cohort. If there is a COVID case in the cohort, the entire cohort will be unable to meet, practice, or play for 14 days.”
Penn Charter boys’ basketball team faced this situation head-on recently after a player contracted the virus. With a season already shortened to four weeks compared with the traditional three-month run, Isaiah Grimes, a junior and returning starter for the Quakers, said that losing two weeks of the season was “a shot in the heart.”
“Obviously with it being COVID, we knew our season was still uncertain, so you kind of have to prepare yourself for that type of disappointment, but when I heard the news that we had to quarantine, I was shocked.”
When playing a sport you love and enjoy, it’s easy to be disappointed when things go off the rails.
But it’s hard to ignore the fact that COVID is real and is still here.
“It’s frightening playing basketball during these times,” said junior Mikala Carter, a forward on Imhotep Charter girls’ team. “You love it so much and one case could ruin everything, and have you stay in the house and be out of shape.”
As winter sports wrap up, many teams are looking back on seasons drastically altered by the pandemic.
“The PIAA [Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association] decided a few weeks ago that it will only take district champions to the state playoffs,” said Mike White, a sports writer for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “The COVID-19 pandemic was the reason for the change because the PIAA wants to limit travel for teams.”
That means a lot of teams are going to end their seasons without having to make one final push toward earning a spot in the state playoffs.
For Grimes, the number of games played really doesn’t matter. “Even if we do get a few games in during a year like this one, it still is helping us as a team and helping us build chemistry.”
To many Philly high school ballers, it’s a joy just to hit the hardwood this season. And many are embracing the opportunity.