The wait is nearly over for high school basketball teams in Montgomery and Schenectady counties, as a number of varsity programs will conduct their first full-contact practices Wednesday.
Monday was the earliest day, technically, for basketball practices to begin, but a variety of guidelines that needed to be met to allow for “high” risk high school winter sports — basketball, cheerleading, ice hockey and wrestling — made Tuesday into the first day that a majority of able-to-play programs could start . . . but the snowstorm that visited the area, and canceled after-school activities at most schools, delayed that until Wednesday.
“Hey, you’re able to have a basketball practice — and then it storms,” Schalmont boys’ basketball coach Greg Loiacono said. “But I’m excited for them, they’ve been without sports for a long time.”
Amsterdam boys’ basketball coach Tim Jones’ team will start practicing Wednesday, and the Running Rams found out they will take on Fort Plain in their first game on Feb. 10, according to a schedule released Tuesday for Montgomery County’s boys’ and girls’ basketball teams.
“We play one week from [Wednesday], so we can’t afford another snow day,” said Jones, since teams need to conduct six practices to compete.
The majority of counties within the greater Capital Region set a benchmark last week that their seven-day rolling average of coronavirus positivity rate needed to reach 4% or lower to allow for “high” risk high school winter sports to start full-contact practices and competition.
Saratoga County continued to see its positivity rate decrease, falling to 4.1% Wednesday afternoon, lowering it to within striking distance of 4% or below. Meanwhile, Schenectady County fell again to 3.8% on Wednesday, the second consecutive day it was below the “high” risk allowable mark; Albany County was at 5.3%; Schoharie County saw its rate rise, again, to 4.3%; and, Montgomery and Rensselaer, the two area counties that gave the go-ahead to “high” risk sports to begin fully Monday without needing to meet a positivity-rate level were at 7.3% and 4.8%, respectively.
While Montgomery County schools are able to play, they can only compete within the county until their seven-day rolling average of coronavirus positivity rate reaches 4% or lower. That means that Amsterdam, a Foothills Council member, is currently slated to play an eight-game season with two matchups apiece against Western Athletic Conference members Fort Plain, Fonda-Fultonville, Oppenheim-Ephratah-St. Johnsville and Canajoharie.
“I don’t think it really matters who you play as long as you are playing,” Jones said. “The takeaway is that these kids are going to get to play basketball. If you think back a week ago, I’m not so sure we were even thinking that.”
Jones added: “The score at the end of the game, as much as I would love to say it does matter, it really doesn’t. It’s just about putting the uniform back on, and giving them a chance to go out and do something they love.”
On the Feb. 10 opening night of play in Montgomery County, Amsterdam will host Fort Plain, and Canajoharie will host Fonda-Fultonville in boys’ games. In girls’ competition, Fort Plain will host Amsterdam and Fonda-Fultonville will host Canajoharie. Oppenheim-Ephratah-St. Johnsville will get its start on Feb. 12 with a boys’ home game against Amsterdam and a girls’ game at Amsterdam.
Junior varsity games will tip off at 5 p.m. with the varsity contests at 6:30 p.m.
“Please note that the superintendents have said that no spectators or media will be allowed at games, however each school is planning on live streaming games that anyone will be able to watch,” Canajoharie athletic director Brian Dunn included in his email Tuesday with the Montgomery County schedule.
Loiacono does not have a schedule yet for his Schenectady County-based team, but the Class B Sabres could be facing some large-school competition in the next few weeks.
“I think we’re waiting to see what the [other] leagues and the athletic directors are going to do,” Loiacono said. “If we just played the Schenectady County schools, I would be OK with that.”