It is finally time to play ball again in Arkansas! Well, if you stay six feet apart.
On June 1, Arkansas athletes gained permission to practice with restricted guidelines prepared by Secretary of Health Dr. Nate Smith and Gov. Asa Hutchinson.
These guidelines are being released as part of a phased approach and apply to every team sport.
To get an inside look at what the first phase of distanced-practicing looks like, AY About You headed to Little Rock Christian Academy to observe the 8th grade girls basketball team.
When AY arrived at LRCA’s practice facility, we were greeted by girls basketball coach Ronnie Sanders.
Donning a black mask, Sanders sat outside and checked in each athlete and asked them a series of questions:
“Have you had a fever of 100.4 degrees or greater in the last two days? Do you have a cough, difficulty breathing, sore throat, or loss of taste or smell? Have you been in contact with a person infected with COVID-19 within the past 14 days?”
Once checked in, the masked-players put their things down in taped-off bleacher sections that created a space for each individual to be seven feet away from the next. Once settled, the players were allowed to take off their protective gear and get into the groove of individual warm-ups and drills.
“It’s a lot of fun just being back,” says incoming eighth-grader Berkley Monk in between shooting. “It’s just a lot different.”
Different, it is. According to a directive released by the Arkansas Department of Health, Phase I prohibits scrimmaging and competitive team play.
Although taking away scrimmaging from the close-contact sport seems like an odd scenario, Sanders sees the restriction as a chance for pivotal improvement.
“This is an opportunity for a lot of them who need to get better with their skills,” says Sanders. “It’s a blessing in disguise.”
The Little Rock Christian Warriors are practicing three times a week under a regulated practice-time limit.
After two practices, each player can attend a gym session for up to an hour-and-a-half. Once a player has reached six sessions in the gym, they can increase their practice time to two hours. Fifteen two-hour practices later, a player can spend up to three hours in one round of training.
Despite restricted gym times and bizarre state-directives currently in place, Little Rock Christian’s Girls Basketball Head Coach Ronald Rogers is just happy to have his players back doing what they love in a safe environment.
“Our main priority is just to keep these kids safe,” says Rogers. “But it really is great to be back in the gym. We haven’t done anything since March, so you can tell all of the kids are very excited to be back.”
The LRCA 8th grade girls’ basketball team’s excitement doesn’t end there. The basketball program is ecstatic to get to play in the brand-new Little Rock Christian Academy Warrior Arena.
The arena, which began hosting basketball games last year, comfortably seats 1,600 Warrior fans and opponents. The space also boasts five new classrooms that will facilitate STEM, art and robotics students.
During our visit to the Little Rock Christian Academy campus, longtime athletic director Johnny Watson walked and talked AY through the state-of-the-art facility.
On tour, Watson led us to an unfinished room filled with trophies adjacent to the Warrior Arena lobby.
Dubbed the Warrior Room, the space will soon be a walk-through display of LRCA athletic accomplishments, state championship trophies and more.
“We have done a lot since becoming Little Rock Christian in 2001,” says Watson proudly.
As the school’s athletic director for the last 12 years, Watson has played a vital role in the success of the Little Rock Christian Academy championship-winning athletic program.
Arkansas is set to enter into Phase II on Monday, June 15. As Arkansas high schools continue to prepare their athletes for fall and winter sports, the impact of Phase II practice regimens is yet to be determined.