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Local sports league continues playing with new safety rules in place

Posted at 6:09 AM, Nov 16, 2020
and last updated 2020-11-16 07:27:24-05

OLATHE, Kan. — Right now, some area school districts are still deciding what to do with winter sports like basketball.

Sports leagues around Kansas City are facing the same questions, with some holding off until 2021.

That's not the case for Great American Basketball League in Johnson County. It just completed its first weekend of games but had to jump through some hoops to get there.

It's November, and sports are moving inside. COVID-19 makes that complicated, and when there are already other tricky protocols in place because of the virus.

"In the past, you'd be able to just turn a kid's shoulders, and make sure he's in the right spot," said Adam Dougherty, who coaches 2nd and 3rd grade teams for GABL. "And now, it's like, I've got to use a couple of extra sentences to get that across."

Both of Dougherty's young sons are playing this year, and he said he trusts what's being done to protect them.

"Obviously I'm concerned about everybody staying healthy," Dougherty said. "But if we do a good job of following the rules that GABL has set out, I think we can get a lot of good nights in."

GABL thinks so too, and it made a major investment to make the season happen.

The league typically spends $350,000 for their fall-winter season, renting gym space from local school buildings. This year, schools aren't allowing that. So, they bought their own flooring and leased a 28,000 square foot space, working with the experts along the way.

The rules include only one parent per child per game and masks at all times for coaches and spectators. Players can remove their masks on the floor, but put them back on, on the bench.

"We feel that we know how to do it as safe as possible," said Brett Hunter, GABL's Executive Director. "We've worked with the JOCO Health Department quite a bit. They've read all of our return to plays, they feel like what we're doing is making it as safe as possible, so we felt comfortable doing it."

Corey Owen is the general manager of Homefield, the indoor sports facility leasing the space to GABL.

"I didn't think it would work," Owen said about the newly-purchased courts. "I mean, it's hard to believe when I look at it, it's great how it's turned out."

Owen also had COVID-19 this summer.

"I don't want our facility to have that image that an outbreak happened there," Owen said. "We take the COVID protocols very serious because if we get shut down, we're gonna devastate a lot of kids, so it's our goal to stay safe."

A shutdown is still on the table, and the league knows that. But Hunter and Dougherty said they're ready for it if that day comes.

"If it happens tomorrow, and all of a sudden (on) January 15th, they say it's now safe to do this, we'll start the season back up January 15th and move forward with the season that we promised our players," Owen said.

"I'm gonna listen to what the experts say," Dougherty said. "And when they tell us that it's not safe, we just have to cut it off and be happy with what we got, and move on."

GABL cut the number of teams by about 40 percent this season, and they've put protocols in place if a player or coach has to quarantine, or tests positive for COVID-19.

41 Action News reached out to the Johnson County Health Department with some questions about GABL's plans. Their responses are in italics below:

JCDHE worked with JCPRD to develop risk mitigation process. JCPRD worked with GABL and other organizations to implement the same thing. We met with JCPRD, GABL and others a few weeks ago to revise their protocol including limiting spectators to 1 or 2 per athlete.

The risk management steps worked in the 3 months that we were able to keep community spread within a narrow range. However, we have exponential increase now and we all need to do more. JCDHE will be meeting with JCPRD this week to look for additional ways that we can work together at this time.

JCDHE has been consistent in stating that athletics increase risk. However, as always, it is balancing the benefits – physical, mental and emotional health – of participating in these activities with what we need to do to reduce the uncontrolled spread of the virus in our community. It is spreading across the region, state and the country. These are unprecedented times and we need to do more.

These activities do increase the risk of spread of the virus.