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Frustration grows with latest state, NIAA update on high school sports

By Thomas Ranson Nevada News Group
Oasis Academy senior Sadie O'Flaherty and the rest of her senior class are still waiting to hear whether the basketball season will kick off in two months after the latest update from the NIAA.
Thomas Ranson

With cases trending upward across the Silver State, coaches are trying to remain optimistic that the winter high school sports season will kick off on time in January.
In a statement released just after noon Friday, the NIAA announced that it would be moving into Phase 3, meaning new modifications have been made toward the reintroduction of competition.

As Gov. Steve Sisolak has loosened restrictions on youth and adult recreation sports, the NIAA is continuing to update its guidelines for high school sports.
Previously in phase 2, minimal contact sports weren’t allowed to return to any competition. In Phase 3, only high-risk sports – football, wrestling and basketball – are currently not allowed to resume competition, which would mean only skiing would be allowed when winter sports resume in two months. 
“It also allows for competition in what the directive categorizes as ‘minimal-contact sports’ and moves a step closer to the possibility of competition in ‘full-contact and close contact sports,’” read the NIAA statement. “Competition in minimal-contact sports, those sports designated as ‘moderate transmission risk sports’ in the original NIAA Guidance, was not allowed in Phase 2 of that guidance.”
Phase 3 will maintain the same restrictions for the safety of the athletes and coaches involved. Even with high-risk sports competition still off the table for a return at the moment, the NIAA admitted it was a step in the right direction for those three sports to return to action once play resumes in January.
With two months to go plus an upward tick in COVID-19 cases, it has coaches worried that basketball and wrestling will not have a season. 
Fallon girls basketball coach Kevin Wickware has been preparing his program with modified workouts as if the season will start on time – even if there’s no control over the situation. During the new six-week seasons, there will be no state postseason but leagues can still hold regional contests.
“We’re going on the assumption starting Jan. 2 and putting an entire season in a month and a half,” he said. “I think there’s always some doubts because we don’t have control of this right now. We don’t get to make control of these decisions. I’m optimistic with Churchill County right now but it will be unfortunate for all seniors (if there’s no season). We don’t have control of that decision.”
Oasis Academy girls basketball coach Dusty Casey, who’s also the school’s athletics director, also restarted his program’s workouts this fall. Casey, who returns a strong senior class, is hopeful his girls will get one more opportunity on the hardwood but the state’s pandemic numbers have him worried. 
“Giving the recent spikes in cases, I’m fearful that we aren’t going to get the chance to play. I’m actually very fearful of that,” he said. “I want nothing more but to have them play. My fear is growing every day that it may not happen. That’s essentially where we’re at.”
One of the biggest updates from the state’s release this month was listing basketball as a high-risk sport, which needed to wait until Phase 4. During the summer, the NIAA had basketball listed in Phase 3. 
“The clock is ticking quickly,” Casey said. “Jan. 2 is going to come very fast. We still can’t even practice (with contact) and scrimmage. I know we have two months and I have fingers crossed. I’m not holding my breath.”
Wrestling, though, could face a bigger hill to climb. 
With a truncated season down to six weeks, Fallon coach Trevor de Braga said it’s not enough time to have wrestlers condition, practice and compete. 
“A six-week season isn’t enough time to get kids into shape, and then having to tell them they won’t be able to compete for a state title is pretty discouraging,” de Braga said. “At this point, we can’t have practices unless they’re off school grounds so we would have to find a venue that would allow us to have mats for voluntary workouts. Since our governor said ‘no contact,’ it’s impossible to have wrestling workouts, and per the NIAA, we have to follow the governor’s orders.”
De Braga said most of his wrestlers are doing non-contact football workouts to get in conditioning and be ready to start wrestling workouts next month with early-morning runs. De Braga is frustrated by the lack of answers and hasn’t been able to inform his wrestlers as much as he would like. 
He sees the season working out in two ways: frustration about the six weeks, which leads to not coming out, or wrestlers will be encouraged by the shorter season because of less conditioning involved. 
“Kids will be frustrated about a six-week season and be discouraged to come out, knowing they won’t have a chance to make it to state or compete for a state title,” he added. “Or, kids will be more enticed to come out because it’s a shortened season and then they don’t have the pressure on their shoulders to have to try to make it to state.”
De Braga – and the rest of coaches at both Fallon and Oasis – just want clear direction. There’s no indication or criteria made available that would show what needs to happen to advance to the last phase to allow full-contact sports. Of course, it could all change if cases continue to rise and force schools to go completely virtual, which would mean no sports. 
“It’s just been a jumble mess and it would be nice to have a clear answer,” de Braga said.