High school gymnasiums in Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows are much more silent than usual this January.
Gone is the squeak of sneakers and the rhythmic thwomps of rubber meeting the hardwood.
Calls of “And one!” and resounding, “Let’s Go’s,” are not heard while passing through the nearby halls.
Former Maple Ridge Secondary basketball coach Ken Dockendorf, who has been volunteering with the boy’s team until this season, is no longer standing under one of the school’s nets, tsk-tsking air-balls and giving pointers on shooting form.
“It’s pretty sad what’s happening,” he said. “Especially for the kids in Grade 12. This would be their fifth year playing and they always build towards having a great last year.
“But it’s not to be.”
Like soccer, softball, ice hockey, and wrestling; basketball in Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows has had to ride the pine as a pandemic precaution.
Programs across the province have been effectively shut down, as it is a sport that cannot be played while physically distancing.
Some clubs, and schools are still practising, but it is limited to dribbling, shooting, and some defensive manouvres.
Dockendorf, who has spent more than 50 years coaching the sport, and is sitting president of the BC High School Boys Basketball Association, misses being involved.
“I’m a volunteer, because I’m retired, and they don’t allow volunteers in,” he said. “I can’t even go into the gym.”
He does not dwell too much on his own issues, however, as he is more focused on the sport as a whole.
“A lot of the players have just quit,” he said. “They’re simply not playing anymore; and this is happening all over the province.
“I hear from a lot of the coaches, and they said because the teams can only practise at a Phase II level (no contact), a number of athletes have decided not to play the sport.”
He also worries about some of those coaches won’t stick with the sport once the pandemic is behind us.
“Some of them haven’t been coaching for at least a year, and they’re finding other things to do, so I wonder how many of them will even come back.”
Looking ahead to September, Dockendorf estimates it will be the most difficult start-up in school sports in B.C. history.
“I’ve worked through a number of lengthy strikes in my time but in a strike situation, you knew once the strike was over you were going back to the way things had been.”
Despite what happens next season, this year’s senior teams will take the brunt of the loss.
“We only lost one player from last year,” Dockendorf said of MRSS’s senior boy’s squad, “So we would have had one of our better teams in quite a while.”
The coach is holding out hope for a miracle.
“If everyone can get vaccinated quickly, maybe in late spring some sports can start up.”
Samuel Robertson Technical senior girl’s basketball head coach, Lesley McPherson, shares Dockendorf’s thoughts on the older high school hoopsters.
“The window to play high school athletics is so small, and to lose a full year in your Grade 12 year is pretty disheartening for some of them,” she said.
McPherson stipulated some of the more driven athletes have taken to working out with some of the clubs around the Lower Mainland.
“They’re still able to train, which is awesome, at least in terms of a kid’s mental health,” she said. “But even if they want to do that, they need the right club connections and opportunities.”
One of McPherson’s star players, Emi Nagai, who played point guard for the senior team last year, worked with a personal trainer during the summer months, and is currently driving out to Abbotsford to train with a team.
She is hoping to stay in peak condition to be eligible for a university or college scholarship, her coach explained.
“She’s been working hard,” McPherson said. “It’s tough. The onus is on the kids to promote themselves and touch base with these post-secondary programs.”
The loss of the season is particularly tough on the SRT senior boy’s team, which is coached by McPherson’s husband, Scott Tomlin.
“We would have had an amazing senior boy’s team this year,” McPherson said.
‘It’s probably the best group we’ve ever had at this school, so they are probably more upset about it than the girl’s,” she added. “The girls are more capable of finding the silver lining.”