It may look and sound different, but there will be basketball in Northern New Hampshire this winter.
Superintendents, principals and athletic directors from Division III and IV schools in the North Country decided in a Zoom call Monday to move forward with a 2020-21 hoops season amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Among the key changes: Players will wear masks and no spectators will be allowed.
“It might be disappointing for parents not to watch their kids, but when it comes down to it, safety is the No. 1 priority,” said Les Poore, the Lisbon athletics director who will also be coaching the Panthers boys hoops team after a nine-year hiatus.
While more detailed approaches will likely be discussed at upcoming school board meetings, Poore noted that locker rooms will not be used and teams won’t travel south of Lincoln.
Longtime Littleton boys coach Trevor Howard, whose team shared the Division IV boys hoops title with Newmarket last winter after their title game was canceled because of the coronavirus, is cautiously optimistic.
“I know everything is day-to-day right now, but I am excited for the boys,” he said. “I can’t imagine being a senior and going through all this, not knowing if there will be a season or not, and coming off a season in which they didn’t get an opportunity to play in a state title game.
“We will do whatever they tell us to do to keep the kids safe.”
Back on Oct. 16, the New Hampshire Interscholastic Athletic Association unanimously approved all winter sports for the 2020-21 season. Among the changes, the NHIAA waived the bylaw that requires schools to play a minimum number of games in their division to qualify for the postseason and allowed schools to develop regional schedules. The NHIAA also said all winter postseason events would be conducted in an open format.
Skills and drills activities can begin begin Nov. 30. The first date of team practice for all winter sports is Monday, Dec. 14. The first date to play interscholastic games is Jan. 11.
The NHIAA said on Monday that the last date to play regular-season games will be Feb. 28. Tournament dates have yet to be scheduled.
Howard hopes to squeeze in 10-12 games in the abbreviated slate.
“The boys have been texting non-stop about basketball since soccer season ended,” Howard said. “We know there are risks. We’re hopeful we can have a season. We’re excited, but cautious.”