For many parents of children in grades K-8, the squeaking of sneakers on hardwood and echoing of bouncing basketballs have become common components of the winter season, and this year will be no different.
Rec basketball registration for Hall County Parks & Leisure opened Monday, and sign-up for Gainesville Parks & Recreation basketball has already been open for a few weeks. It is the first indoor sport being offered by either department since start of the COVID-19 pandemic, and both the Hall County and Gainesville City parks and recreation organizations have implemented new protocols to keep players and spectators safe.
Here are some of the changes parents should be aware of before signing up their kids to play.
WHAT’S NEW FOR ATHLETES
Although registration for both organizations remains open until this Friday for Gainesville City and until the end of October for Hall County, Gainesville Parks & Recreation director Kate Mattison said COVID-19 has definitely affected registration numbers, which are down from a year ago. Hall County Parks & Leisure athletics coordinator Wayne Briscoe said it was still too early to tell what the numbers would be compared to a typical basketball season in Hall County, but fall baseball registration was down 20% this year, and Briscoe acknowledged that he wouldn’t be surprised to see a similar trend happen with basketball.
To address the drop in participation, Mattison said the two departments are keeping the option open to merge basketball leagues in case either is unable to field enough players to have a season.
“Last year, we did not have to do that because we had enough teams, so hopefully this year we will too,” Mattison said. “But we do know that this year our numbers are being a little bit impacted by COVID in general.”
Briscoe said Hall County would be decreasing team sizes, which will serve the dual purpose of creating more teams in case registration takes a bigger than expected hit and also cutting down on the number of people gathering in gyms for games.
Hall County has also chosen to push the start of the season back from late November to the beginning of January, a move that Briscoe said was “handed down from higher up.” Mattison said Gainesville City is still planning to start its season in November, but that could be pushed back and registration extended if not enough players sign up in the next week.
Outside of differences in registration and start date, protocols for athletes playing in both departments are largely the same.
“We have kind of tried to work with the county to figure out what parameters do we want to put in place, what parameters are they putting in place,” Mattison said. “That way we’re kind of mirroring each other.”
Both organizations plan to encourage coaches to avoid close huddling during practices and while explaining drills, as has already been the case for rec baseball. Community water jugs are being eliminated, and all athletes are required to bring their own water bottles to practices and games. Gyms where both Gainesville City and Hall County games are being played will be sanitized nightly during the basketball season.
WHAT’S NEW FOR SPECTATORS
In an effort to cut down on people gathering in gyms, Hall County Parks & Leisure has decided on a spectator limit of two per athlete, according to Briscoe. Mattison said Gainesville City Parks & Recreation is also considering a spectator limit, but has not made a final decision on that yet.
Spectators for games put on by both departments will be asked to socially distance in bleachers, and parents will be asked to leave immediately following their child’s game to make room for those coming to watch subsequent contests. Spectators will also be asked to wear masks at all times while inside gyms.
Mattison said Gainesville City is also doing away with selling tickets for games at the gate, opting instead for a system of online ticket purchases to eliminate the exchange of cash. At Hall County games, Briscoe said gyms would have clearly labeled and separated exits and entrances, so parents and athletes would not be running into each other during transitions between games.
With the first games not scheduled to begin for several weeks still for either department, Mattison said Gainesville City is still working on finalizing its rules for spectators and will be communicating any changes in protocol as soon as those decisions are made.
“We’re just trying to figure out how to make it as customer friendly as possible while still being as safe as we can,” she said.