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Coal Valley News reporter Phil Perry

Welcome back to Phil for the Game, your glimpse into the sports community of Boone County.

As we begin winding down what has been a very rigid fall sports season in reference to the challenges that COVID-19 has presented in terms of overall safety for student-athletes and scheduling nightmare for prep coaches, I thought it might be interesting for our readers to hear from basketball coaches regarding what their plans are in relation to conducting practices, playing games and scheduling during the pandemic of 2020-21.

I caught up with Scott High School Coach Shawn Ballard, who is facing challenges beyond losing his top two All-State scorers to graduation in JonJon Hamilton and Jagger Bell.

“Obviously, the health and safety of the players is my top priority,” Ballard said by phone on Thursday. “We are definitely presented with a whole other set of challenges this season.”

Ballard said that, with basketball season around the corner and a potential scrimmage with cross-county foe Van High scheduled for Nov. 28, 2020 has been a blur.

“You kind of missed out on your normal landmarks for summer and summer is over, so here we are about to start winter sports and it is really weird, to say the least,” he said.

I think Ballard’s sentiments ring true for most of us, as 2020 has been an unprecedented year.

“They (SSAC) have implemented some rule changes and I think we are going to see where we are with numbers in a month,” he said. “We have less contact sports than basketball have cases come out of it and you’ve had contact sports give us some insight. There are examples with the NBA bubble and college basketball moving full steam ahead but in the end it really comes down in high school sports what is going on in your community and if the 10 kids on the court don’t have it (COVID-19) is the biggest concern, for me anyway.”

For hoops, face coverings will be required for all players and coaches in the bench area as well as for personnel at the scorer’s tables.

Handshakes before and after the game will be eliminated.

The most significant change to gameplay will be the absence of the jump ball. Instead, the visiting team will be awarded the first alternating possession and begin the game by inbounding the ball.

“To me that is a thing that takes 20 seconds and we’re going to be leaning on each other and sweating on each other the entire game,” he said. “It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me, but I’m OK with it. People may disagree with me, but I would strongly disagree with anyone that says a jump ball influences the outcome of a game in any sense. If it lets us be able to play, I’m good.”

While playing in the Class AA Cardinal Conference, the lion’s share of the Skyhawks’ opponents are from Kanawha County beyond two games with Logan and two with Chapmanville. Mingo Central is no longer in the conference. Ballard believes that scheduling on-the-fly for hoops coaches will be easier than that of his gridiron counterparts.

“To me I’d rather be in my position than our football coaches because we can play the next day or two days after,” he said. “With football, you’ve got to have a few days to rest and heal up before you hit it again. It is harder for them to recover and play. I don’t know if we’ll get anywhere close to playing 22 games this year, but it is a lot easier for me on Saturday when the map comes out to make scheduling changes than for football coaches.”

Ballard said scouting is going to be a challenge for hoops teams.

“I’m sure at some point we are going to play a team we are completely unfamiliar with, and as far as reaching out and getting film quickly, it will be harder,” he said. “Those are things we will have to overcome and deal with as we are faced with it and I have faith in my (coaching) staff to do that.”

Ballard said player safety is top priority.

“I would cancel any game at any point if it meant getting anyone sick or compromising their well-being,” he said. “As far as the kids and their mindset, that will be the coaching challenge. These kids have common goals and benchmarks that we see each year and what we have right now is unprecedented and the future is uncertain. We have to be in the gym when we can and focus on getting better. We have to be thankful for what we can do. Our goal this year is to just continue to get better and take advantage of what time we do have to play the game.”

I’m going to leave you with a favorite sports quote, until next time.

“I feel like I’m the best, but you’re not going to get me to say that.” — retired NFL receiver Jerry Rice

Reporter Phil Perry can be reached at pperry@hdmediallc.com or at 304-307-2401.