In a year of uncertainty, the King’s men’s and women’s basketball teams are enjoying the familiarity of being back on the court.
The King’s Athletics Department has worked in accordance with COVID-19 protocols in Nova Scotia to allow the Blue Devils to practice, and the basketball teams even got to play exhibition games against local club teams on February 8. These were the first games played on the Kingdome court since the team’s regular season finale on February 23, 2020.
Coordinating a safe return to practices and games has been a long process for King’s Athletics; planning began soon after the campus first closed due to COVID-19 on March 20, 2020. Department staff liaised with Public Health, the provincial sport governing bodies, the King’s Occupational Health and Safety committee and the President’s Office to ensure they were following all guidelines. Though the Atlantic Collegiate Athletic Association (ACAA) made the difficult decision to cancel the season in June, King’s set a goal to return to competition in some form if health regulations allowed.
“Our plan took from April until August 1 to be put into action and then we brought teams back first with groups of 10 only,” says King’s Athletics Director Neil Hooper.
As Nova Scotia’s restrictions were eased to allow larger gatherings in late August, teams secured the ability meet in groups of 20-30. This has allowed King’s to have practices for all its teams this Fall and Winter.
Student athletes are screened as they enter the gym, and all touchpoints are cleaned and sterilized. Teams enter wearing masks, but once practice begins, they’re able to remove them for the duration of the session.
“It has been so much fun seeing the girls be able to get back on the court and play games,” says Women’s Basketball Coach Parker Regan.
Though student athletes are enjoying the camaraderie of practice, Regan notes there’s no substitute for a game.
“After 60-plus practices since September, everyone was ready to play a real game. The best part is that they can see all of the hard work they’ve put in since the start of the year pay off.”
“Coming off an ACAA finals appearance last year it was difficult losing the season especially for the graduating players who have had such a big part in the growth of our program,” says Regan. “I am just happy for our seniors that we can finish this year with games. They’ve earned it!”
Because King’s courses were offered online this year, some student athletes have remained outside of Nova Scotia, studying from their home provinces. Hooper says that they’ve tried to keep the continuity with those student athletes despite the distance. “We have been in touch through our coaches, who sent out training programs and included them in all virtual meetings,” says Hooper. “We are working toward safely getting back to normal and remain hopeful that they will be back on the courts and fields again.”
All King’s students who are in Halifax have been able to book time slots for gym access. King’s athletics has also offered online mindfulness and guided meditation resources through a partnership with Dartmouth College and a ‘Wednesday Workout’ series on their Facebook page created by men’s soccer strength and conditioning coach Thomas Kochanoff.
Now that they have the formula down, Hooper says they plan to continue playing exhibition games through the rest of the academic year if permitted by health protocols. He says that it’s all part of the eventual goal of league play in Fall 2021: “Not having a crystal ball, we cannot say for certain but we are diligently working toward our goal of returning to play.”