KHSAA delays start of winter seasons to Jan. 4

CCHS head coach Daniel Kukahiko (at right in yellow) speaks with his team at a practice Thursday, joined by assistant coach Eli Pepper (far right) and his daughter Everlee. The start of Kentucky’s winter sports seasons, boys’ and girls’ basketball and wrestling, has been postponed to Jan. 4.

The Kentucky High School Athletic Association and its embattled Board of Controls on Wednesday took more than two hours to discuss, deliberate and, ultimately, decide how to handle mounting COVID-19 issues, unanimously opting to move the start date of the 2020-21 winter sports calendar to Jan. 4.

Originally scheduled to begin on Monday, a collision course of rising COVID-19 numbers, schools moving toward non-traditional instruction, official mandates from the office of Gov. Andy Beshear and the inevitability of cloistered family gatherings at Thanksgiving and Christmas made the next six to eight weeks full of landmines capable of derailing an entire winter sports schedule to the point of no return.

Basketball, and the eventual start to spring sports, were naturally the hottest topics of Wednesday’s roundtable, as KHSAA Commissioner Julian Tackett’s opening plan involved a scenario where a full basketball season opened on Jan. 4, with championships played following the Kentucky Derby in May.

The potential overlap into spring sports, however, was rebuffed and countered by several Board of Controls members, and what was chosen includes March 1 start dates for district tournaments, March 8 start dates for regional tournaments and an expected March 15-21 or March 22-28 window for tentative KHSAA Sweet 16 dates at Lexington’s Rupp Arena, or perhaps elsewhere if needed.

“I really can’t, in clear conscience, think to tell you that it’s a good idea for our member schools to start playing organized and official games this coming Monday,” Tackett lobbied. “I know there will be parents upset. That’s OK. I know there will be coaches upset. There will be kids upset.

“At the same time, I’ve tried to keep in mind the priorities you all (the BOC) have had all year, and we’ve talked about this. No. 1, it was to not let another group lose the entire season. Whatever we did, whatever we could do, we had to try to do. Secondly, we would preserve and complete a full spring sports season. That’s the group that was most impacted last year. A reduction of two to three football dates was big, but they didn’t lose the whole thing like last spring. Our priority was ‘Can we have a full and complete season?’ ”

Tackett added that he wanted to keep the priority to have a “culminating event” for the sports, like playoffs.

“That’s what these athletes work for,” he said. “...We saw the loss of that last year, for those folks who had worked so hard to get to that final game or that final tournament.”

What was made clear by the KHSAA Board of Controls is that a three-week practice period for winter sports can resume for school districts after Dec. 13, if districts so choose based on local COVID-19 numbers and further guidance from attached health departments and the governor’s office.

Caldwell County High School boys’ basketball head coach Daniel Kukahiko said the decision to postpone the start of the season as well as the start of practices was just something for his team to adapt to.

“We’ve been fortunate to be in the gym for a little while, following the (COVID-19) guidelines,” he said. “Our guys have done a good job of following those guidelines.

“It is going to affect us because we’re going to be out of the gym for two weeks, but at the same time, we’re going to do some things off the court virtually that will help the momentum we’ve built up; we’re not going to have to start up again on Dec. 14.”

Kukahiko said no one knows what the future holds regarding school. It may be virtual all year, hybrid or school may be open five days a week.

“We want to make sure that we’re still making progress,” he said. “I told the guys even in the summer when we first met that our mindset has to be that we’re going to go at it like we’re going to have a full season, and then we’ll make adjustments as we go along.”

The delay to the start of the season will help the Tigers fill their roster before the start of the season in January. Some of the boys’ basketball players are also on the CCHS football team, which opened its playoff schedule on Friday at Murray.

“We’ve got about half of our team that’s not here right now because they’re playing football,” Kukahiko said. “I talked to a football guy (Thursday) and said, ‘This gives the best of both worlds: It gives you a chance to win a state championship and not miss any basketball games.”

CCHS girls’ basketball coach Chuck Mitchell said he had a feeling that the delay was coming, so he wasn’t totally caught off-guard.

“Our main goal was to keep the girls positive and keep working hard,” he said. “At the end of the day, Jan. 4, we’re going to have a few weeks off we’ve had a great six weeks, kids are doing well together, and you can see that they’re gelling together.

“We’ve got them excited for the 24-game schedule starting Jan. 4. It’s a disappointment, but it is what it is.”

Mitchell said that the team would have get together on Google Meets before returning to practice on Dec. 14.

“We’re going to stay in contact,” he said. “We got all our travel gear and stuff, and the kids are going to be excited to get that when we get back for practice on the 14th.

“They’re going to get to spend time at home for Thanksgiving and Christmas this year. That’s something that they really don’t get to do a lot of. We’ve just got to adjust, adapt and overcome.”

Kukahiko begins his ninth season at the helm of the Tigers, while Mitchell opens his second season of leading the Lady Tigers.

David B. Snow of The Times Leader contributed to this article.