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‘It’s tough:’ Richmond high school basketball coaches accept loss of championships

With no competitions and physical distancing in place this year due to COVID-19, teams have had to adjust their practices
Steveston-London Sharks, senior boys basketball team
The Steveston-London senior boys basketball team. Richmond coaches say it's been a tough year amid pandemic restrictions and disappointing that provincials were cancelled.

Richmond high school basketball coaches say while it came as no surprise that BC School Sports decided to cancel provincial championships, it’s still disappointing the athletes won’t get a shot at competing this season.

“The provincial championships are what our goal is every year, so it’s unfortunate the kids won’t be able to get that experience and it’s extra unfortunate for the Grade 12’s who lose out on their final chance,” said Jamie Kippan, who coaches the McMath senior girls team.

“We always held out hope that it would somehow be able to go ahead…but with all the safety considerations, we knew it was likely that it was going to be cancelled.”

Mike Stoneburgh, head coach of the Steveston-London senior boys team said there were “rumblings” around Christmas that there wouldn’t be any provincials this year.

“I think the kids kind of expected it,” he said. “You can kind of tell (their) mood…It’s tough, because I think they see the writing on the wall, they know.”

BC School Sports (BCSS), which oversees high school sports across the province, announced its decision to pull the plug on winter sport provincials in a memo to school administrators and athletic directors last week. The decision was made in light of ongoing COVID-19 health restrictions, and also affects wrestling, curling, gymnastics, and skiing and snowboarding.

Inter-school competitions have also been cancelled this year, and teams have had to adjust their practices to line up with pandemic protocols.

“It’s basically just skills practices right now,” said Stoneburgh. “We work on aspects that we can while social distancing, but there’s no games.”

He added that the most his team has been able to do this year, competition-wise, is split into socially-distanced groups at practice for shooting competitions.

It will also make for a challenging season next year, said Kippan, with athletes having gone more than a year without playing any opponents.

“It’ll be interesting to see how it plays out, what the quality of games is like, what the quality of competition is like going forward, because everybody’s in the same boat,” he said. “There will be a bit of readjustment to learn how to play an opponent again.”

BCSS has launched an online competition, encouraging coaches to submit athletes’ top five scores for weekly, specified skills challenges, which Kippan said is a “great effort” by the organization to try and get at least some competition on the table for the athletes, although his own team hasn’t participated yet.

'A big part of who they are'

Stoneburgh said that the lack of a normal season has also had an impact on his charges’ mental health.

“There’s these kids that live to play sport, and it’s not there for them…I know my mental aspect has taken a kick because I love coaching and aspects of game strategy, but for some of these kids, they don’t know if they’ll have another year.”

He added that, for him, this has been the toughest year of coaching he’s had in his career.

For the McMath senior girls team, basketball is “a big part of who they are and what they like to do,” said Kippan.

“How much it wears on each individual kid is hard to say, but I would say collectively it’s a challenge for them to get to practice and try to be a part of a team when you know there’s no real end goal this year.”

Kippan said his group this year was solid, with lots of returnees from last year, and if COVID hadn’t happened they would have had their eyes set on provincials.

“I think we’d be aiming to be the South Fraser number one seat again and then go from there hopefully once we got to provincials.”

The Steveston-London senior boys team, meanwhile, would have been one of the top teams in Richmond this year, said Stoneburgh.

“We were going to battle in the top four, for sure, and then go into zones… I thought we were going to do alright, we were going to have a shot at provincials.”

In its memo, BCSS said it is working with B.C.’s ministries of health and education, along with the BC Centre for Disease Control, for a chance to return to some level of inter-school competition for spring sports – such as soccer or badminton – before the end of the school year.