GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — COVID-19 is impacting high school basketball teams in Kent County in a major way.
Officials say 50% of teams that have basketball programs have had at least one player test positive.
Now the health department is making new rules to combat it.
Among them, teams will be forced to quarantine if they’ve had any direct physical or close contact with a positive player. They will monitor this in several ways including using video footage and requiring any team with a positively tested player to quarantine everyone.
Both teams will also be required to provide a full roster of players when someone tests positive.
“Basketball seems to have its own, unique set of risks. It’s indoors, there’s a lot of very, very close face-to-face contact, it is very difficult to maintain a mask in place while you’re playing basketball. Some people don’t even try,” Joann Hoganson, Kent County Health Department director of community wellness, said.
“Basketball, you know, has its own risks and it’s hard … and I know for many, many students it is a very important part of their life. And they really want to go to those finals, they want to have that tournament,” Hoganson added.
It’s a difficult time to crack down on teams, many of which have less than a dozen games left in the regular season. But for those who have already punched their ticket to the postseason, many are electing to pause the rest season and resume with the playoffs.
“Many of the high school teams are sitting out. They are taking a break, and they are not playing their games this week. They’re going to have to forfeit them, but that will allow them to go into the final tournament and they’ll be able to play that tournament after having a week off,” Hoganson said. “If we can stop the spread now, hopefully the students that go into the tournaments will not be carrying the virus in with them. That’s our hope.”
The glimmer of hope that the postseason can be completed as previously scheduled is exactly why Grand Rapids Christian High School and others have elected to keep it safe by not playing.
“I think like a lot of things in COVID. We’re trying to make the best decision in an ocean of really hard decisions. We hope we made the right one for our kids,” Grand Rapids Christian Athletic Director Jason Heerema said. “But only time will tell.”
Their decision was made easy for them as the entire O-K White conference made the same move.
“So, it was really about trying to provide the most opportunity for your kids because of how the O-K White is able to work together. I really think we negotiated a way that benefitted all the kids and all the teams.” Heerema said.
“We’ve had some more positives, particularly amongst basketball, and so the Kent County Health Department felt like this, creating … the rule where if you set foot on the floor with a positive from another team, you would be out as well. We just have to wait it out,” Heerema continued.
On the flip side, other schools are not pausing, electing instead to press on.
“We’re not saying they’re wrong … you know, it’s a hard decision,” Heerema said.
Despite all the stress and tough decisions made, Heerema said their struggle has been worth it for the student-athletes.
“I’ll tell you, every good athletic director will go to war for his kids and his coach and his community so that they can play games,” Heerema said. “It was absolutely worth it.”
The Kent County Health Department says they hope the pause proves effective so the student-athletes can touch the court with championship dreams still alive, despite the pandemic.
“It’ll give them time to break that chain of transmission so they’re not just spreading theirs around more, but they’re letting the students stay away from the court for a little while so they can go into the tournament and play in the final games,” Hoganson said. “Let’s just stay healthy so we can get through the tournament and they can build those important memories.”