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Winter high school sports set to return to action in early December

By Jared Lloyd daily Herald - | Nov 23, 2020
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Springville head coach Justin Snell reacts after a last-second bucket by the Red Devils to end the third quarter during a semifinal game in the 5A boys basketball state tournament between the Springville Red Devils and the Woods Cross Wildcats held Thursday, Feb. 27, 2020, at the Huntsman Center in Salt Lake City. Isaac Hale, Daily Herald

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Timpview guard Jaxon Santiago (13) passes the ball while guarded by Springville guard Paul Terry (4) during the 5A boys basketball state championship game between the Timpview Thunderbirds and the Springville Red Devils held Saturday, Feb. 29, 2020, at the Huntsman Center in Salt Lake City. Isaac Hale, Daily Herald

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Payson’s Cole Jensen holds down Wasatch’s Deklan Kelly as they wrestle in the 120-pound weight class during the UHSAA 5A State Wrestling Championships held Thursday, Feb. 13, 2020, at the UCCU Center in Orem. Isaac Hale, Daily Herald

For athletes who compete in winter high school sports like basketball, wrestling and swimming, the last few weeks have been a time of uncertainty and anxiety.

“We were just trying to figure out if we were going to get a season, hoping to get one,” Springville head boys basketball coach Justin Snell said in a phone interview Monday. “You’ve got boys coming into your classroom every day, asking what you’ve heard when I hadn’t heard anything.”

But, thanks to new guidelines from the state of Utah, it appears that the season is about to get underway.

Utah governor Gary Herbert announced the latest State Public Health Order with regards to temporary statewide COVID-19 restrictions on Monday, which included directives on athletics.

Next Monday, all participants in high school activities, including coaches and staff, will be required to get tested for COVID-19 every other week. Anyone who receives a positive test result will not be able to participate until they have completed an isolation period.

The Utah High School Activities Association followed that announcement by releasing a statement explaining how high school sports would resume.

“In light of today’s Public Health Order announcement from Governor Herbert, the UHSAA will resume winter sports practices and tryouts on Tuesday, November 24,” the UHSAA statement said. “Additionally, the Association will work with member schools, the Governor’s Office and the State Department of Health to ensure the necessary testing resources are available to member schools to begin competition on Thursday, Dec. 3 for all sports with the exception of wrestling, which will begin on Dec. 11 to accommodate for the delayed start to mandated hydration testing.”

Snell said the news that the season will move forward was a huge relief.

“I think everybody’s excited, even though it’s gonna be weird and unusual,” Snell said. “I think the kids are just excited to play. They’re willing to do whatever they have to in order to play.”

The Red Devils are the defending 5A state champs but lost eight seniors from the 2019-20 title team. That means the preparation limitations forced by the COVID-19 pandemic have put Springville — as well as most other teams — in a spot where there are still a lot of unknowns.

“Talk about the one time we definitely want a summer and then we don’t get one,” Snell said. “We lost all eight kids from last year and have to figure out how we’re going to play. But I think the boys have worked really hard. We were able to sneak in some games in the fall, which was nice to hopefully help us figure out what the right direction is.”

Snell said that while games will be allowed on Dec. 3, Springville has moved its season-opener to Dec. 7 to be able to get a few more practices in.

He also said the team isn’t going to waste any time and will hold tryouts at Springville High starting at 5 a.m. on Tuesday.

He said the main message to the Red Devil players is to lean on each other during these times of uncertainty.

“They’re playing for each other,” Snell said. “We tell them to not do anything dumb that’s going to prevent this group of guys from playing a game. They need to just play, regardless of how the season looks, whether there are fans or no fans,, whether we have to skip a week or whatever might happen. They’ve just got to stick together.”

In addition to the high school athletics guidelines, the new public health order will also require that participants in club sports and recreation leagues be checked for symptoms and asked whether they have had exposure to COVID-19 in the past two weeks.

Connor Richards contributed to this story.

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