Basketball in times of COVID-19

It looks different ... and the same

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It’s a chance to watch a basketball game. In this case, it’s the Feb. 27 girls contest between Fort Lupton and Valley high schools.

That’s pretty normal. Even these days.

Then the reality of high-school sports in a pandemic offers up a reminder that it’s not normal. There are masks everywhere .. the ticket-takers who also take temperatures, offer hand sanitizer and, as necessary, wristbands, the game officials, the folks who work the scoring table, administrators who greet guests with fist bumps instead of handshakes. 

There’s the sight of the campus security director spraying down the seats between games of what will be a doubleheader.

The small number of fans who can be in attendance don masks -- even a young child who burrows his way into some unopened bleachers. Ah, to be nimble and young.

FLHS limits the crowd size but allows fans from both teams to attend. The catches? One set of bleachers is open. Home-team fans sit 6 feet apart on one side; visiting teams’ fans sit on the other .. and 6 feet apart.

The players have to wear masks while they are playing. But even with that, it’s the same old game.

Pregame chat

FLHS’s first-year coach, Gabriella Jolley, watches her team go through the pregame layup drills, passing drills and basic shooting drills. She’s happy. A lot of her injured players are back in the lineup, and it shows in the Bluedevils’ effort during the first half.

The opening tip turns into a scramble for a loose ball -- with several Fort Lupton players in the mix -- in the key.

And another jump ball.

There’s a tendency to rush some shots during offensive possessions. But Fort Lupton is running screen-and-roll plays to get into spots to take those shots. Reygan Garcia launches a turnaround jumper off an out-of-bounds play and converts two of her eventual team-high 14 points. FLHS takes an 8-6 lead after the opening frame, thanks to a Zaylee Chavez basket with 20 seconds left.

Heading to halftime

The second quarter feels like a repeat of the first. FLHS is running pick-and-roll plays with some success. The Bluedevils are converting some second-chance baskets, too. But during an early timeout, Jolley has some advice, advice that’s easy to hear because of the sparse crowd.

“You guys have to get open,” she implores her young team. “You have to move around. They are right here,” she says while pointing to a dry-wipe board.

Even masked, it’s easy to see facial expressions, especially grimaces after missed shots. It seems certain that Jolley will tell that player to forget about the shot and focus on the next play, the next chance to shoot the basketball and, perhaps, score.

Meantime, the Vikings are taking advantage of some Fort Lupton bobbles and a team-high four points from Hallee Sherman to take a two-point lead to the locker room at intermission.

Second-half woes

The young child who nestled between rows of unopened bleachers earlier -- and rather comfortably, too -- decides he wants to sit up for the second half. He peers out from behind his phone every so often to watch Fort Lupton and Valley take the floor.

If he’s a Fort Lupton fan, he’s not liking what he’s seeing. He might well be thinking that the worst thing to happen to the Bluedevils was halftime.

Valley starts to use its height advantage and its tough defense as the second half begins. The Vikings roll off 12 unanswered points in the first five minutes of play. 

Garcia, who spends a good deal of time either in the air, on the floor or helping someone off the floor after a collision, scores her team’s three points in the period. Jolley brings out the dry-wipe board and explains what’s going wrong to her young charges.

“Let’s go. Let’s move,” Jolley tells her team later in the quarter. “Let’s go.” 

Valley doubles the score on Fort Lupton at the end of the quarter. Sherman and Marcela Carvajal add four points to the Vikings’ total.

The fourth quarter sees a little bit more of the things that worked for the Bluedevils in the first half. Garcia and Savanna Carroll execute a screen-and-roll play for a basket. Bailey Gibbs converts a bucket early in the quarter, and Jessica Davila finishes up the scoring for the Bluedevils late in the quarter.

Even though the game has become decidedly one-sided, there are words of encouragement from the bench.

“Hands up,” Jolley tells her team while on defense. “There you go.”

Post-game looks

Valley wins the game 50-23. Gibbs finishes with four points and the spot as the team’s second-highest scorer of the game.

Meantime, the fans begin to clear out. The P.A. announcement is for people to leave through the same door they entered. Most stand in the area right outside the gym, waiting for players to come out of whatever passes for locker facilities.

It’s also time for Weld Re-8 security officer Mike Ornelas to spray the seats in advance of the next game. Behind his mask, he smiles as he relates the story of using two spray guns at once during a time when students and staff weren’t in the building, then he finishes up.

Athletic director Jim Roedel is doing similar duty on the other side of the floor, cleaning the players’ seats.

And then the process repeats for the next game.

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