Colorado high school basketball coaches looking for answers on mask mandate from CDPHE
With high school basketball practices set to start Jan. 18 across Colorado, there’s one large, lingering question for the state's coaches and players.
Part of the variance obtained by CHSAA from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment requires basketball players to wear masks while playing due to the contact with nine other players on the floor.
However, coaches are concerned with the safety of wearing masks while exercising, plus the logistics of the games with rules related to the face covering requirement.
“Do we have any sort of studies on athletes wearing masks?” Pueblo South boys basketball coach Shannan Lane asks. “I just get a little scared and concerned. All it’s going to take is a kid to get light-headed, pass out.”
Colorado is one of only a handful of states requiring some of its student-athletes to wear masks for indoor sports that take place at this time of the year.
Minnesota, which has already begun its winter seasons, is requiring basketball and hockey players to wear masks and has had mixed reactions with some student-athletes reporting no noticeable difference with a mask while others have said they are struggling with breathing.
Lane sat in on a CHSAA meeting earlier this week to discuss new rules with masks and talked about some ideas that were thrown out.
Lane said an idea was pitched to implement a “mask break” at the four-minute mark of each quarter, and also talked about an idea to increase the break between the first and second and third and fourth quarter from one minute to two.
Both ideas were an attempt at allowing players to catch their breath, but the ideas weren’t adopted.
“Have you ever gone to try and sprint on the treadmill for five minutes (with a mask on)? I can’t and I’m not even sprinting,” Lane said. “I think coaches just have a bunch of questions. Are there any other sports out there, as physical as basketball is, that are playing with masks?”
Lane also talked about water drinking rules that require players to leave the bench area in order to remove their masks and get a drink.
With timeouts being either one minute or 30 seconds, this doesn’t allow much time for the player to listen to instruction from the coach while also making sure they stay hydrated, another concern coming from Lane.
“I’ve been online the past two days trying to find water bottles with long straws and figuring out how we can stick our long strong underneath our masks so they can stay hydrated while I talk to them,” Lane said.
The answer to Lane’s first question about research is one that doesn’t currently have an answer.
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Not many studies have been able to be conducted on the impact of masks, and those that have are in a more controlled environment on treadmills or stationary bikes rather than contact sports like basketball or hockey.
Not to mention, there’s still 13 people on the court at one time, 10 players and three referees, which makes Pueblo County girls basketball coach Mark Villegas wonder how much impact masks will have.
“We got 13 people out there touching a ball, and then we’re going to scratch our face or itch our nose and kind of misplace our mask,” Villegas said. “I’m not quite sure how much safer that’s really going to be.”
Part of it may come down to the types of masks, since recent studies show different masks have different effects on breathing.
Lane said CHSAA is looking at certain masks that will be worn, saying neck gaiters are already a no-go with the concern of them falling off players’ faces.
"We did buy masks for the kids and everybody's wearing the same masks. It is an adjustment and we're learning what the kids can handle and what do we need to back off a little bit or take some breaks."
Coaches and administrative staff have been given the responsibility to make sure masks stay on players' faces, but referees can step in if the issue continues.
“I feel like coaches kind of have their hands tied,” Lane said. “We can voice any opinions we want, but I still don’t understand why the Colorado health department is different than all the other states.”
Lane said she doesn’t want her questions to be seen as her being ungrateful for a potential season, but she wants to make sure things are done in a correct, fair way to allow for solid competition.
Teams around Pueblo County will be able to begin open gyms starting Monday before first practices can begin Jan. 18.
While the mask debate rages in high school basketball, Villegas said he and his players are willing to follow whatever guidelines they are given.
At the end of the day, the kids just want to play.
"Our thing is that the kids are excited to have a chance to be able to play and if they have to wear masks on the court, they're going to do it," said Fowler High School boys basketball coach and athletic director Mark Lowther.
Villegas added, “I’m not an expert, so if they say this is going to help, obviously we’re going to follow any guidelines they set. I know people have worked hard to keep athletics going, so we’ll do our part. We’ll coach the best we can, the girls will play to the best of their abilities with a mask and I think they’ll probably adjust to it.
“That’s the rules and that’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to follow the rules.”
Chieftain sports reporter Austin White can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at twitter.com/ajw_sports. Help support the Chieftain and get the latest news on prep sports with a digital subscription.