COVID’s impact on Sampson sports

Local athletics press on, but not without disruption

By Daron Barefoot Sports Editor
<p>Hobbton’s Josiah McLauren goes down the lane for two points against Lakewood in a game last week. Wildcats hoops is on hiatus until Jan. 22, according to the school’s athletic director.</p>

Hobbton’s Josiah McLauren goes down the lane for two points against Lakewood in a game last week. Wildcats hoops is on hiatus until Jan. 22, according to the school’s athletic director.

<p>Midway’s Riley Williams goes up for a layup under the basket in a game last week. Face coverings are now commonplace for participants in all athletics.</p>

Midway’s Riley Williams goes up for a layup under the basket in a game last week. Face coverings are now commonplace for participants in all athletics.

<p>Makenzi Hudson and Zana Barefoot battle at the net for a score during a match between Clinton and Midway last month. Volleyball teams have been fairly unscathed from COVID’s impact.</p>

Makenzi Hudson and Zana Barefoot battle at the net for a score during a match between Clinton and Midway last month. Volleyball teams have been fairly unscathed from COVID’s impact.

COVID-19 continues to leave it’s mark across all of Sampson County. Closing in on one year into the pandemic, local businesses and restaurants still don’t look the same, school schedules are discombobulated, and local sports are still greatly impacted. Despite numbers rampaging in the red zone all across the state, the North Carolina High School Athletic Association has attempted not to pull the plug on athletics, but that doesn’t mean impacts aren’t being felt.

Most teams in Sampson County made it through the volleyball and cross country seasons relatively unscathed. Though playing an abbreviated, mainly conference-only schedule, all teams were able to complete their games. Several local teams even made it into postseason play with Midway and Lakewood qualifying for the volleyball playoffs while Hobbton and Lakewood are to participate in the 1A Cross Country Regional Championships on Friday, and Midway in the 2A meets on Saturday. (Due to COVID, the Cross Country Regionals had to be split up this year.)

As the seasons shifted to what is typically “winter sports,” area basketball teams are already falling victim to the ongoing virus.

Clinton, Lakewood, and Hobbton have all had to adjust their schedules after members of their teams or staff either tested positive or were exposed to COVID-19.

As a result, the Dark Horse boys were pushed back to start the season on Jan. 19, two weeks after the original start of their schedule. The same case goes for the Lakewood boys, whose two-week pause should expire around the Leopards’ Jan. 22 matchup with Princeton. Both the Lakewood and Clinton girls teams were unaffected as of press time, and were scheduled to continue play as scheduled.

Meanwhile, over at Hobbton, the Wildcats hoops teams has also paused, with Athletic Director Jason Fussell having said “No basketball until Jan. 22.”

The NCHSAA has not held back in making it known that the safety of athletes, coaches, and officials is of utmost importance while also trying to be accommodative in trying to carry out high school athletics. As things stand, the current guidelines state that no more than 25 spectators fill the stands for indoor contests. Everyone, including athletes and officials, are required to wear face coverings, and there is an official timeout designated at the 4-minute mark of basketball games to switch out balls and disinfect. Screening and temperature checks are frequently performed and there are ample protocols in place regarding exposure or positive cases.

But the impacts are not just at the high school level. COVID implications run all the way down the ladder through middle school right on down to the elementary level, where those ages usually participate in the Clinton or Sampson County Parks and Recreation departments.

Just this past week, Sampson County Parks and Recreation announced that they will forego their basketball season.

In a statement, the department said, “Sampson County is currently and consistently reporting substantial community spread of the COVID-19 virus, as categorized by NCDHHS’s COVID-19 County Alert System. Given the significant increases in reported positive COVID cases, and out of an abundance of caution for the protection of our players, coaches, their families and our staff, Sampson County Parks and Recreation will regrettably cancel its upcoming basketball season. Registered participants will be contacted by department staff concerning refund procedures. Thank you for your continued support of our department as we move forward.”

Sampson County is one of 84 North Carolina counties now in the red as part of the COVID-19 County Alert System, denoting “critical community spread.”

Statewide, there have been more than 630,000 total laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 cases to date, along with more than 7,500 deaths, according to the NC Department of Health and Human Services Dashboard.

Reach Sports Editor Daron Barefoot at [email protected]