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High school athletes, sports teams struggle as the pandemic rages on

Posted at 10:38 PM, Dec 07, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-07 23:39:01-05

WISCONSIN — In Wisconsin, as the Kurtis Blow hit goes, we love that basketball. The only problem in 2020 is not every court is open.

"There are 80 different high schools in Wisconsin that have paused at the start of the high school boy's basketball season. They range from Lacrosse to Sheboygan, to Milwaukee, to Madison, Racine, Kenosha, the suburban schools in Dane County. They are kind of all over the map," says Mark Miller, Basketball Editor for WSN.

Mark Miller has covered local hoops for over 30 years. When asked who a postponed season hits the hardest, he didn't hesitate.

"It hurts the late bloomers. You know everyone knows about Patrick Baldwin, and they know about James Graham, Kobe Johnson, all the great players that have already committed. Tyrese Hunter at Racine Cats. But they don't know about the young man who grew four inches over the summer or the player that suddenly gained speed and can now defend at a high level. Those guys who are on the border of possibly getting a scholarship or going D3, it hurts them the most," says Miller.

As COVID-19 keeps some kids off the floor, others play. It's a wave of inconsistency that has athletes drowning in uncertainty.

"The scholarship is one aspect of it, Delaney, but the bigger part to me is those kids who aren't going to play beyond high school. This is their only opportunity. If you are the 9th man at Riverside and have looked forward to this senior season all these years, and it's not there. It's crushing," says Miller.

Working out in Mequon, Milwaukee Public School student-athletes, Houston and Alexis are trying to stay positive.

"It's a great experience to do this, and come here almost every day because basketball is like a way to escape from your stresses in life, and to be able to do this is good," says Alexis, a junior basketball player at Rufus King High School.

But even the best mentality, can't block out reality.

"This is the time in our life where we change and develop. We mature a lot and we become these grown athletes. But we can't do anything about it, we are just stuck," says Houston, a sophomore basketball player at Golda Meir.

Former pro and Marquette alum, Joe Chapman, didn't grow up in urban Milwaukee. That said, as a kid from Chicago, he knows firsthand how this game can change lives.

"Being on the court and not being in the streets or around gangs, it gave me my safety net. It also gave me two meals a day with school. It gave me my structure, my discipline to be a successful business owner now. As an athlete, I think if you would have taken any of those youth years away from me, or high school, I wouldn't be sitting here now," says Champman.

It's why Chapman Basketball Academy started and why it has stayed open through the pandemic.

"We take temperatures, we do hand sanitizer, we make sure we do everything the right way. But we also give these kids an outlet to have," says Chapman.

Basketball is an outlet that hasn't only been taken away from the athletes, but the coaches as well.

"If they could, I know they would, want to have their players in the gym. Working on different things, getting video of their kids and giving them a sense of want and need that you can't do when you don't see them every day," says Chapman.

If you still think one season isn't a big deal, you may not be listening. Even 13-year-old Caleb, who currently plays in a youth league twice a week, is watching to see which programs play or not.

"It's important to me because I have to work right now for the future. In one or two years, that's when college coaches can start looking at me. I got to choose what high school I'm going to go to base on education and how the sports are doing and coaching," says Caleb.

Maybe, you should ask how Houston's recruitment is going.

"I've emailed a couple of colleges and they have asked me for film, but I can't give them because we haven't had an actual game or practice," says Houston.

Listen, to the excitement in Alexis's voice, when asked if a season starting in March would make her happy.

"I would say yes. Absolutely yes," says Alexis.

Everyone understands a pandemic is going on. No one is here to point fingers.

What kids across Wisconsin are doing, is asking those in charge to find a way to play. Now, or later.

Pass them the ball, and let them take their shot.

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