Hollidaysburg teams hoping to finally get seasons started
Hollidaysburg became the final school in Blair County to begin the winter sports regular season after its girls basketball game against Altoona on Thursday and its boys basketball game against Johnstown on Friday were postponed due to cleaning being done at the school after COVID-19 issues.
“The reality finally set in of what COVID can do to a sports season,” Hollidaysburg girls basketball coach Deanna Jubeck said. “As a group, we have put in a good couple weeks of practice, and we did all the planning that we needed to do to get the season in, and then we’re a couple hours away from playing our first game and instead I was making phone calls telling the kids we had to postpone.”
Both Hollidaysburg teams lost in the District 6 Class 5A championship game last season and are hoping to return to the title games this year and win gold, but it has been tough to fill out a complete schedule. The Golden Tigers are one of the few area teams not in a conference.
“It’s difficult for us, not to say we have it more difficult than anyone else, but everyone else is given 12 to 18 games for a conference schedule,” Hollidaysburg athletic director and football coach Homer DeLattre said. “They could shut down today and reopen in a month and still have 14 games, because they have a league. That makes it different, but I’m getting used to it. We lost all but three football games and had to re-do that. We lost all but two soccer games and had to re-do that schedule, and now for basketball we were very fortunate to get most of our games back on the schedule. We have 14 games, and if you take away the tournaments, which can’t be made up, that’s close to what we had scheduled.”
The Hollidaysburg boys were set to open against Johnstown, the team that beat the Golden Tigers for the 5A title last season but has dropped to 4A this year.
“It’s tough, because we know Johnstown has a veteran team with three of their starters coming back, and we thought we had a good plan with what we have,” Hollidaysburg boys basketball coach Brad Lear said. “It was going to be a tough opening game for us, but it was a pretty flattening feeling to find out it was off.”
Lear said the delays and lack of preparation time, even during the offseason, has been especially tough on his team this year.
“We lost the majority of our scoring from last year, and we’re trying to get a lot of new kids ready,” Lear said. “We just haven’t had the time to be able to do that. That’s been the big challenge. Last year, we were just reviewing. This year, we need to teach new, because a lot of our team wasn’t with us last year.”
Lear was prepared for Friday’s postponement despite finding out about it while driving to try and practice on Thursday before that was also called off.
“I told the kids at the beginning of the season that I thought we would have some games get shut down, and I knew this was coming, because I dealt with that coaching in football,” Lear said. “Being an independent team is hard, because a lot of these teams care about winning their conference. They look at that, and if we are playing teams later in the year, there’s always a good chance they will cancel, because they want to prepare for their playoff game or play a league game instead of us.”
Lear’s night Thursday was also supposed to include watching one of his daughters, Sydney, play in her first game of the season for the Lady Tigers.
“She’s extremely disappointed,” Brad Lear said. “Especially, because they were going to play Altoona. They have a bunch of girls that play on our travel team for Sideline Cancer, and Sydney has some close friends on that team. I was certainly looking forward to seeing her play, and she’s not taking it well. But she also knows there’s going to be opportunities to play, and she can take advantage of those opportunities when they present themselves.”
Jubeck’s team also had a game Saturday at Williamsport that was postponed and agreed that the way the season has played out has been mentally challenging for her players.
“Every coach is in this for the kids,” Jubeck said. “We’re looking out for their best interests and what we can do to get them on the basketball court. This hasn’t been ideal for any coach in the area, whether you are in a league or you are independent. But being on the court one day and off the next makes it very hard to develop consistency in the lives of student athletes.”
Even when the teams have been able to practice, it isn’t often they practice as a full team.
“We did have a couple guys who were in quarantine who missed several days,” Lear said. “We were missing a starter, and it was hard not having him at practice, but he couldn’t attend practice because of contact tracing. That’s been difficult. We have had kids in and out, but for the most part, we have been able to discuss things with the kids about their habits outside of school and keeping their circle small.”
District 6 pushed back the deadline for teams in Class 5A and 6A by a week on Wednesday, allowing some extra time for Hollidaysburg to make up or possibly schedule more games.
But Lear said practice time is also important in a condensed season.
“Coach DeLattre has put on the message boards that we still need games and we will travel,” Lear said. “But a lot of teams, maybe because we are 5A in an area with mostly small schools or they have conference games, we haven’t filled it out. We told the kids we’re doing every possible thing to get as many games as we can without sacrificing skill development. We are such a young team, so I don’t want to play five games in seven games just to get to 22. I love practices, because I have more control. I covet practice time, because we can bond with the kids. Having six freshmen up on varsity, that’s very valuable experience time with them.”