DANVILLE — Six months ago, the NJCAA laid out its Plan of Action for athletics during the 2020-21 school year.
Dr. Christopher Parker, the NJCAA President and CEO said back in July that the organization’s greatest focus was providing the best opportunities for the student-athletes during the COVID-19 Pandemic.
“Our most recent plan of action provides a path that keeps our student-athletes competing at the highest level with proper safety measures in place,’’ Parker said. “As we move forward as an association, we will continue to provide opportunities for our student-athletes, coaches and all those involved with the NJCAA to be safe and successful.’’
The men’s and women’s basketball seasons started with practices on Monday, Jan. 4, and Danville Area Community College is preparing to start it’s women’s season on Jan. 23, while the men will play their first game on Jan. 27.
“It’s been a process,’’ said Tim Bunton, athletics director at DACC. “Obviously, our school has guidelines and rules that we must followed, but as a league (Mid-West Athletic Conference) we have had discussions on what we would like to do to provide an opportunity to play in the safest possible environment.’’
Bunton pointed out that every athlete is screened daily before practice with a temperature check and answering a series of health questions.
Additionally, all athletes are asked to wear face coverings into practice, after practice and on their way to the weight room. They don’t have to wear them during strenuous drills, but they have been asked to pull them back up during any breaks.
“Our kids have been wonderful, to be honest,’’ Bunton said. “I think it goes back to the face that they just want to play.’’
While the start of the season is still more than a week away, DACC is scheduled to host a women’s scrimmage today against Olney Central and a men’s scrimmage on Saturday against South Suburban.
But just like the regular-season games this season, no fans are allowed inside the Mary Miller Gymnasium.
“It’s going to be different on game days,’’ Bunton admitted. “We won’t have fans, but we will be live streaming the games online.’’
The link to watch those games can be found on the Danville Area Community College athletics website at www.danvillejaguars.com.
Other changes will include the team benches being spread out so that players can practice safe social distancing, each play will have their own water bottle and cooler instead of the normal team water cooler and players will be asked to wear face coverings while on the bench.
“We have had to think differently and the kids have responded well to the changes,’’ Bunton said. “But, I think they will do anything to get the opportunity to compete.’’
Bunton acknowledges that men’s coach DaJuan Gouard and women’s coach Erika Harris have the biggest challenge as they try to get athletes prepared for a season after just starting practices on Jan. 4.
“Getting those bodies prepared to compete is difficult,’’ he said. “I think the scrimmages this week will be good to see how the athletes respond.
“And it’s a good test run for how we are going to handle an live event on our campus.’’
This season, the M-WAC will be playing basketball games on Thursday nights and Sundays, as volleyball matches will be held on Wednesdays and Saturdays for the league schools that offer volleyball. The league has also moved up the starting time for women’s games this season to 5 p.m. with the men’s games tentatively set for 7 p.m.
The basketball season, which can be a maximum of 22 games, will run until April 10 with the NJCAA Division II National Tournaments set to begin on April 20 with the championship games set for April 24.
As of right now, no fans will be allowed to attend the national tournament.
“All of us would like to see a gradual addition of fans as we move forward,’’ Bunton said. “Right now, we just want to get things started and see what happens with numbers in the state. Hopefully, we can get family members into the gym at some point.
“We’re not there yet, but that is a future goal.’’
Baseball, softball, men’s and women’s golf along with cross country were able to compete during the fall with cross country hosting its National Championship on Nov. 14, 2020.
The other sports are all scheduled to have spring seasons with their national tournaments being held during the month of May.