Photo: The Gadsden State volleyball team must wait until next spring to defend its ACCC state championship. (Chris McCarthy/Messenger)
By Chris McCarthy, Publisher/Editor
Gadsden State’s volleyball and men and women’s basketball teams must wait a bit before hitting the court at Beck Field House.
On July 13, the National Junior College Athletic Association announced that the majority of fall and winter sports will be moved to the spring semester, which includes Alabama Community College Conference volleyball and basketball programs.
Spring sports, which include baseball, golf, softball and tennis, will proceed as normal. Cross country will proceed with their fall regular and championship seasons.
The change is a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has led to the postponement or cancellation of several Division I, II and III college sports seasons for the 2020-21 season.
The decision was based on recommendations from the NJCAA Presidential Advisory Council and the NJCAA Board of Regents.
Gadsden State Athletic Director Mike Cancilla acknowledged that the decision was made in the interests of the health of the conference players, coaches, officials and fans, adding that the combining of fall, winter and spring JUCO sports will not be the logistical nightmare it appears to be on paper.
“The NJCAA and our conference commissioner have been working on contingency plans for quite a while,” he said. “Plus, we worked through this every year on the first of October when volleyball is in midseason and basketball starts. All our coaches understand the protocol and everything that will be required of them. For example, no fans will be in the stands during the fall scrimmages. It will be just the players, coaches, a trainer and a couple of officials if the teams want them.”
Cancilla stressed that the protocols and procedures at Beck Field House will be the same a every other ACCC gym in the state.
“Separate entrances for the visiting teams, separate entrances for the officials, no access to water fountains. These are things that folks will have to do; it isn’t an option.”
Cancilla noted that ACCC Commissioner Dean Myrick is in the process of putting together a master schedule for conference games, with the individual schools’ athletic directors and coaches filling out the remaining dates with regard to COVID-19 protocol. Only in-state games will be played.
“We’re on [conference] calls with the co-mmissioner every other week,” said Cancilla. “He’s been very proactive with this, and from what I’m hearing and reading, Region 22 is farther ahead of the curve than any other [NJCAA] region in the country in dealing with this. Basically, if we want to play in the spring, these are things we have to do. If we don’t do them, we’re not playing. It’s that simple.”
Cancilla said that social distancing guidelines will be followed to the letter at Beck Field House. He personally will see to the pregame, halftime and postgame disinfecting process.
“For lack of a better term, I’ll be the bad cop,” he said. “If our players don’t cooperate in terms of the required protocol, I will send them home. There’s one way into the building and there’s one way out. Shortcuts will not be tolerated.
“Spectators must wear masks at all times, which is a campus-wide rule. We’ll also make a lot of public address announcements during the game to remind folks of social distancing.”
The NJCAA Return to Play guidelines for volleyball include a fall practice season in which 60 consecutive calendar days are permitted for practice and scrimmages from August 15 through Nov. 15. Five scri-mmage dates will be allowed, with a maximum of two scrimmage dates allowed in the spring. Each scrimmage limited to no more than two outside opponents. Spring practice will begin January 11, 2021, with competition to start Jan. 29. There will be a maximum of 21 competition dates. All regular season, region and district competition will be completed by April 3, with the NJCAA Championships to be held April 15-17.
“It’s not really what we wanted, but in the long run, it’s probably for the best,” said Gadsden State volleyball coach Connie Clark, team is the defending ACCC state champion. “I don’t know if we had started in the fall, that we would have been able to finish [the season]. There are mixed feelings in that we’re disappointed that we won’t play in the fall but we’re happy that we’re going to have a season. If [a spring season] works logistically like everyone is hoping it’s going to work, then it will be okay. It is what it is, so we’ll do the best we can and work around everyone’s schedule.”
Clark said that she most likely will not use the entire 60-day practice allotment.
“That’s a whole another season, so I don’t know if any of [the ACCC volleyball coaches] will do that. I really don’t know how they came up with number of 60 days for fall scrimmages and practices.”
Snead State volleyball coach Angie San-ders, who is also the athletic director at Southside High School, is confident that the Parsons’ volleyball and men’s basketball and women’s basketball teams can reach an accommodation next spring in terms of spacing out practices and games at Plunkett Wallace Gymnasium in Boaz.
“Our season overlap but it’s not to the point where we can’t work through our schedules,” she said. “I think the commissioner’s master schedule will make sure that we don’t have multiple schools playing games at the same time at one college. Even if we’re going to have a modified schedule, I’m all for it.”
The fall practice season for men and women’s basketball is 60 consecutive calendar days for practice and scrimmages from Sept. 15 through Dec. 15. Five scrimmage dates are allowed in total for the year, with a maximum of two scrimmage dates allowed in the spring. Each scrimmage limited to no more than two outside opponents. Spring practice will be permitted to begin starting Jan. 11, 2021 with competition starting Jan. 22 with a maximum of 22 games.
All regular season, region and district championship competition will be completed by April 10, with the NJCAA Championships beginning April 19.
Although Gadsden State women’s basketball coach Bryan Phillips appreciates that his team will still have a season, he did not see the sense in limiting the fall season to practices and scrimmages when his and the other teams’ players will be in similar close proximity as in game conditions.
“I’m grateful for it, but if you’re going to do that, you might as well play a regular season,” he said. “It’s only my opinion, but the players will be just as exposed during those five scrimmages and unlimited practices. I’m sure scheduling-wise, they’ll try to keep one [Gadsden State] team at home and the other two on the road on the same day. The challenge is going to by sharing one gym with three teams and practicing while you’re in the meat of your conference schedule. They’ll be some minor adjustments, but we’re pretty much used to it, anyway.”
One positive Phillips sees is that instead of a three-week break during the Christmas holidays, the Lady Cardinals will play the season uninterrupted.
“I think that might be beneficial for us. It costs our kids to stay in the dorm [rooms], whereas Shelton [State] and Wallace [State] play all the way through [the holiday break]. If you’re taking a three-week break in the middle of the season, a lot of times it’s hard to get back into the groove. Now, every is starting fresh on January 11.”
Phillips pointed out that unlike the NJCAA schools that are trying to salvage their seasons in some form or fashion, many college conferences around the country have cancelled fall sports altogether.
“The message I’ve been getting from my players is that they’re glad to get what they can get,” he said. “It’s like what I told a coach the other day – you always think that you’ve got it bad, but there’s always someone out there who has got it worse than you.”
Gadsden State men’s basketball coach Deddrick Tarver said that the most important is that a plan of action is already in place for the fall, winter and spring sports seasons.
“Judging from the newsletters and correspondence we receive nationally, I kind of figured that we might be headed in this direction,” he said. “I think everyone agrees that it’s the right thing to until we get a handle on this pandemic. All the coaches at Gadsden State, along with our athletic director, are working closely to make sure that we follow all the protocols and make sure that everybody has everything they need.”
Both Tarver and Phillips are looking forward to scouting potential players during a six-week time period that is usually part of the college basketball season.
“Basketball is not like football; we’re working with a small, minute number of kids that we can actually bring in,” said Tarver. “We get calls from the top of Alabama to the bottom of Alabama (to watch players), so this will help us get to see some kids that we wouldn’t normally see.”
“I’ve got 11 freshmen and one sophomore, so if everything goes as planned, I won’t have to recruit but one player for next year,” said Phillips. “So, it shouldn’t be as much of a grind as it was last year.”
According to Gadsden State men’s tennis coach Buster Stewart, his program won’t be affected schedule-wise. In fact, a limited fall schedule is still on.
“We probably won’t play anybody from out of state, and we may not have the annual alumni match, but we’ll have a 60-day season,” he said. “The [home of] farthest player away is a kid from Russellville, so most of our kids are from fairly close by. Everyone’s from Alabama.”
Stewart said temperature taking, disinfecting and social distancing guidelines will be strictly followed.
“We’ll have the kids bring their own water bottles and we won’t be doing the close-up huddles that we usually do at the end of practice, but everything else should be the same. But a month or two from now, everything could change.”
Cancilla added that athletic scholarships will not be affected by the change.
“Everything will be honored; it’s just getting pushed to the spring,” he said. “We’re just hoping that we can get to January and then crank it up.”
This article was supplemented by www.njcaa.org.