PT basketball

Eleanor Bailey/The Almanac

Peters Township basketball players work on a defensive drill while wearing their face masks.

When basketball practices resumed across Pennsylvania Jan. 4, there was plenty of huffing and puffing during workouts because of the three-week shutdown ordered by Gov. Tom Wolf and the departments of health and education.

Some schools, however, are struggling more with conditioning and competition than others because of mask requirements.

Mt. Lebanon, Peters Township and Baldwin practice and play while masked. Neighboring rivals at Upper St. Clair and Bethel Park, however, wear no face protection to ward off the spread of the coronavirus while playing.

“It’s difficult getting air and hard to breathe while playing wearing a mask,” said Lebo head coach Joe David. “But whatever it takes. It’s always about the players but this year more so than ever. It’s allowing them to go out and play the sport they love. ”

At this time, masked teams are only playing other clubs that don face protection on the court. All reserve players and coaches, will also remain masked.

For many teams, the decision regarding masks was made previously by school boards.

When the WPIAL holds its open postseason tournament, which is scheduled to start at the end of February, masked teams will have to make a decision whether to enter because District 7 is not requiring masks for the 10 players on the court.

For athletic directors such as Lebo’s John Grogan and Peters Township’s Brian Geyer their programs will continue to follow recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as well as from state and local health departments.

Geyer sid PT athletes have been in compliance for the three weeks prior to the state-mandated shutdown.

“The kids are fine with (masks),” he said. “We will see how it goes. There’s January and most of February, around 16 games, for teams to get used to it. Hopefully people will get on board.”

PT boys basketball coach Joe Urmann is pleased with his players’ compliance.

“The guys have been fantastic about the COVID protocols,” he said. “They follow our plan and make no excuses. I give them a ton of credit. They just want a chance to play.”

USC athletic director Kevin Deitrick said he feels wearing masks while competing presents a “safety hazard.”

“When you are running, you have to be able to breathe,” he said.

Deitrick said athletic teams at USC are strictly following the policies adopted by the district at the start of the school year.

During the fall, football, volleyball and soccer players, cross country runners and golfers did not wear masks while competing. However, all reserves and sideline personnel donned face coverings. For the winter sports, including basketball, wrestling, swimming and rifle, all but those actively engaged in the action will remain masked and physically distanced.

The same applies to practices, Deitrick said. If athletes are not involved in a drill, if it’s a teaching moment or a film season, then masks are required.

Because Lebo and USC have different masks policy, their rivalry is in jeopardy. The boys are scheduled to play Jan. 19 while the girls’ clash is set for Jan. 18. Neither Grogan nor Deitrick foresee the contests being played unless there is a policy change.

“As of today, we would not be playing USC but those games have not been canceled,” Grogan said.

Deitrick said said his athletes want to face their biggest rivals.

“We want to play teams like Lebo and Peters,” Deitrick said. “We’re ready.

“It’s up to the other schools. It’s not our call. We are going to play regardless of who is playing with or without masks. “But the one thing I have learned through all this is to prepare ourselves for the unexpected.”

Grogan said schools successfully conducted girls volleyball marches indoors during the fall months. He also cited Lebo’s adherence to the protocols put in place for safety, such as using hand sanitizer, disinfecting equipment and wearing masks, for his upbeat outlook.

“Sure, we could get shutdown tomorrow but I remain hopeful, especially for the kids. Obviously, we don’t want to lose any more opportunities for them,” he said.

Geyer said he, too, is hopeful schools will navigate the winter season.

“Honestly, I do see it happening but I think we are all on pins and needles just like we were in the fall,” he said. “That will continue. We want to keep everybody as safe as possible and we think we are doing the best job we can to keep kids safe.

“And masks,” he added, “are a big part of that.”

Almanac Sports Editor

An award-winning journalist, Eleanor Bailey has been employed by Observer Publishing Company since 1982. She is the sports editor at The Almanac and a contributor for the Observer-Reporter.

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