GRAND LEDGE – “No matter what” is this year’s theme for the Grand Ledge girls varsity basketball team.
The team has gone through its ups and downs when awaiting the status of its season early on. Before the announcement made by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Feb. 8 in regards to the return of winter sports, the team didn’t know if they were going to have a 2021 season.
The initial season started on track with tryouts in early November. Not too long after the week of tryouts, on Nov. 18, there was an announcement of a partial pause of all high school sports until Dec. 20 due to controlling the spread of COVID-19.
Varsity head coach Beth Perez took this pause to her advantage. Perez held required weekly workouts on Zoom to stay in shape.
To keep the team connected through the pause, Perez found ways to create some team bonding events. The team had a “TikTok challenge,” in which the players would tag someone to do a TikTok trend of their choice that was kept private just to themselves. In another activity around Thanksgiving, each player ran a 5K on her own and documented it with a picture sent to the team.
There was a second pause until Jan. 16 when indoor practices could begin but with no physical contact. Players had to maintain six feet of distance from all other players.
“We couldn’t practice with defense,” Perez said.
However, the team still made practice worth it by running drills, shooting practices, and lots of conditioning.
When returning to practice, there were many COVID-19 restrictions that were set in place to prevent the spread of the virus. All staff are required to wear masks in and out of gameplay unless for a brief water break. All teams have regular temperature checks, COVID-19 questionnaire, and each team sanitizes the basketballs between each practice for the next team.
After weeks of uncertainty on having a season, the team started to lose hope. The team along with all other high school athletes got the exciting news on Feb. 8 of the return of winter sports.
In addition to the COVID-19 restrictions, a few rules changed regarding games. In place of jump ball, the ball resides in alternate possession. There is also a choice for an extra minute between each quarter that is decided between the coaches before the game to give the players a longer break. Refs will call a technical foul if the mask is below the nose when on the court.
There have been many obstacles for not only players but also coaches.
“Numbers (of players) have been low,” as some past players weren’t trying out due fear of COVID, some injuries, and non-related COVID-19 illnesses such as minor colds and flu. Due to having only 11 players compared to 13 last year, junior varsity coach Ara Parseghian, has had to make coaching adjustments regarding game strategy. With the players wearing masks the entire time substitution is more frequent than usual.
Like many other schools in the conference, gatekeepers track who participates to keep within occupancy regulations.
With the limitation of spectators only allowing two people per player the fundraising and donations for the program were not able to be attained this year because of COVID-19. This virus held them back from approaching people in school or going door-to-door. An event the basketball program holds is Coaches vs. Cancer and one for juvenile diabetes. The program does this to raise money for these organizations by selling T-shirts for the Grand Ledge students to buy and also purchasing tickets for the game.
“Financially it has hurt us because we can’t do concessions,” said Lady Comets Booster Board President Laura Willoughby.. They weren’t able to do anything door-to-door, sales during games, or their annual casino bus trip that raises them a lot of money.
However, they switched their fundraising to an online format through Vertical Raise. This helps allow families to donate money online toward purchasing new uniforms, which they achieved for this year.
“We were prepared from last year to change our strategy in terms of fundraising,” Willoughby said.
Despite the season getting off to a rough start, players want to embrace every second they get to play.
“Don’t take your sports for granted,” said Megan Willoughby, daughter of Laura Willoughby. Willoughby is a senior varsity captain this year and was not ready to let go of her final season without a chance to set foot on the court. She is excited to play out their season and win some more games heading into regionals with a record of 7-4.
Importantly, this season has been far from the usual.
“I am audibly inspired by the resilience of these student athletes. They continue to thrive and push themselves beyond their limits even in these difficult situations,” said Parseghian.