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Catholic Youth Ministry pushes start of basketball back to Jan. 2 as COVID-19 cases rise

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Mount Aviat played St. John the Beloved last season at the 76ers Fieldhouse. Catholic Youth Ministry has delayed basketball until Jan. 2 because of rising COVID-19 diagnoses. Dialog file photo

Basketball, the only winter sport sponsored by the Office of Catholic Youth Ministry in the Diocese of Wilmington, will be delayed until early January in accordance with a decision was made by the diocese. Parishes, schools and teams were notified Dec. 2, said Matt Carucci, CYM’s director of athletics.

Some teams had already begun tryouts and practices, which were allowed to begin Nov. 30, but all activities have been paused until Jan. 2 because of rising cases of COVID-19, Carucci said. According to the CYM notification, contact tracing has shown that carpooling, sports and social activities have contributed to the increase in positive diagnoses.

“As a result, an increasing number of students in Catholic, public, and private schools have had exposure to COVID-positive persons and have been required to quarantine,” Carucci wrote in the notice.

“Given the current environment and basketball’s classification as a high-risk activity, CYM and the diocese have decided on a later starting date, which will remain in effect provided that the current COVID environment does not get worse.”

In an interview, Carucci said the state Division of Public Health has indicated that it may release new guidelines regarding activities such as athletics, which was a factor in the diocese’s decision. Rather than deal with changes mid-stream, CYM decided to delay the season.

“Part of this is, if we’re able to start, then start and get the whole season straight through rather than start, stop in the middle and then start again,” he said.

Shortly after this article was posted, the state did indeed add restrictions to winter sports. All youth and high school competitions are on hold beginning Dec. 14 and lasting through Jan. 11, although teams may continue to practice. That would allow CYM teams to begin practicing on Jan. 2.

Nearby states also have made changes to the winter sports calendar. New Jersey has prohibited youth, high school and adult basketball leagues from starting until January. The same is true in parts of Pennsylvania.

CYM had submitted health plans to the state for the various gymnasiums, and some of those were already approved by Public Health. He said the plans for the school gyms were nearly identical, so availability of facilities was not a concern and should not be when basketball resumes.

The plans for basketball — CYM’s largest sport in terms of number of teams and players — are for a season of approximately two months, allowing for spring sports to begin in March.

“We have a little wiggle room, so we’ll play with it and see how it would best work. We’re thinking probably – I’ve told people no guarantees – most likely a seven-game season, six- to eight-game season, so a little shorter than normal,” Carucci said.

“If we can get a weeknight game in here and there, great. But it’s pretty much weekends.”

Teams and players are free to participate in other leagues, he continued, as many have done in the past. CYM has no rules against a team playing in multiple leagues.

“But it can’t be representing a parish, diocese or school. It can be the same team. They can just call themselves something different and wear a different jersey,” he said.

Carucci said CYM’s fall sports went off without a hitch. Even though football was canceled, the organization was able to stage cross country, soccer and softball with no cancelations and no teams being forced to quarantine.

“They went great, honestly,” he said. “That’s another reason I’m okay delaying basketball. We had a perfect fall season. We did not have one sports-related COVID case between any of the sports, all of the games, the practices, nothing. It was a perfect season. That was the coaches and the families doing everything we asked them to.”