In a normal year, the Miramar basketball team would’ve entered this season with a lot of hype and excitement. The Patriots won the program’s first state basketball title in March, and the team’s returning players would’ve been ready to defend their trophy.
But nothing about the 2020-21 basketball season has been normal. The coronavirus pandemic pushed back the start of the season for Broward County teams, and each week, games across South Florida had to be canceled as teams entered COVID-19 quarantine protocols.
“The momentum was kind of slowed down, due to the fact that we couldn’t be together,” Miramar coach Tramaine Stevens said.
Instead of the typical 20-plus game regular-season schedule, Miramar played only five regular-season games and three Broward County Athletic Association Big 8 tournament games before entering the district tournament and starting their title defense.
“It’s been an up-and-down battle, but the guys stayed focused, they maintained their schoolwork and their work ethic through the Zoom meetings,” Stevens said. “We didn’t really get to play a lot of games, but as you can see, we’re starting to jell at the right times.”
Sixty-one players, coaches and officials associated with the BCAA have tested positive for COVID-19, according to BCAA Athletics and Student Activities Shawn Cerra. He said at one point, 12 BCAA teams were quarantined at the same time.
“I’m incredibly proud to be a part of the Broward County Athletic Association,” Cerra said. “I think that our school administrations, athletic directors and athletes actually did everything that we could, really enforced the protocols and procedures that we put in place. We’re the only county in the state that’s doing a QR [code] temperature checks, pulse checks, oxygen checks. And when you do all that, you have a process and really a procedure in place, you’re going to have data.
“We’ve had some incidents where we’ve had some kids with symptoms or had some concerns, and we had to quarantine or cancel games and reschedule them.”
Broward winter-sports teams had to delay their season until Jan. 4, as the BCAA aimed to ensure the resources were there to play in the midst of a pandemic without being drawn away by the end of the fall sports season. When the season did start, there were COVID-19 restrictions in place. A BCAA Big 8 tournament game was even paused to ensure teams were following pandemic protocols.
“We’ve never lived in a pandemic before, so it’s just all about communication and consistency and making sure everyone’s on the same page with regards to what the expectations are and when they can return, and making sure the kids understand that they have a sense of responsibility,” Cerra said.
Cerra said he does not believe athletes are getting infected with the coronavirus while they are at practices or games.
“I think that the kids are safe when they’re with us,” Cerra said. “It’s just that they’ve got to make good decisions, not go to parties. If they do go to a party, they’ve got to be wearing a face covering and really shouldn’t be at one with big numbers. If they’re around family, they need to make sure they’re doing their part.”
Palm Beach County teams started their seasons earlier, without a December delay. But teams there also faced the difficulties of last-minute cancellations and quarantines.
“I feel like the school board, they did what they felt was the best thing for the athletes and for the athletic programs,” Forest Hill coach Tony Watson said. “And I can’t dispute the way that they handled [it] because the most important thing is safety. I think the school board went through all the precautions to make sure that we have a productive season without any bad accidents. I will say that the school board did the best job that could possibly be done.”
Broward County’s altered schedule made things tougher for teams coming into the shortened season, as normal practices and workout schedules were replaced by personal workouts and video-chat meetings.
“We really didn’t have any offseason workouts like we usually do,” Stevens said. “The skill development and transformation from the weight room, it wasn’t there. ... Unfortunately, we couldn’t get together but we tried our best by just doing body weights and committing to the smaller things.”
Miramar was one team that needed to quarantine for 14 days this season. The Patriots’ loss to Miami Westminster Christian would up being the Patriots’ regular-season finale, and they did not take the court again until they faced South Plantation in the BCAA Big 8 tournament.
Senior players have borne the emotional brunt this season, playing their final high-school basketball games in front of a limited number of fans and seeing some of their last games canceled on short notice.
“For the seniors, what we have to remember is a lot of seniors play in the hopes that they can earn a scholarship,” Watson said. “Just with them knowing that there’s going to be some games cut, there’s the possibility that there could’ve been a game or games that could’ve added to their résumé to prove to some college coach that they could play on their campus. With that being cut short, it might determine whether some seniors get that opportunity.
But as the Patriots and other boys teams play their district tournaments and girls basketball teams start their state-series playoffs, coaches are hoping the shortened season was enough to get their teams ready for the postseason.
“The chemistry is definitely off,” Stevens said. “Even when we played in those five [regular-season] games, we never reached the peak where the coaching staff felt like we were ready to make this run for the playoffs. But that Western game [in the Big 8 tournament] was really big for us. It was a rivalry game, and to see the kids really start jelling and come together in that game, in that moment, on that championship stage, is huge for us going into the playoffs.”