COVID-19 issues have kept Wheeler girls’ basketball program silent

Feb. 26—Ellen Turner’s office faces the parking lot at Wheeler High School, giving her a full view of whatever activity is going on outside.

Turner, Wheeler’s athletic director, noticed dozens of students walking out to their cars during school on Tuesday.

It could only mean one thing — those students were going home and into quarantine. That included the entire girls’ basketball team, which haven’t played a game yet due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I could see some of the girls’ basketball players (among them),” Turner said. “You can just tell when somebody is upset the way they walk. So I went outside there before they drove off, and a couple of them (girls’ basketball players) were bawling their eyes out.

“(They said) ‘I’m never going to have my season. This is not the way I wanted my senior year to go.’ They’re having a hard time (dealing with it).”

The Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference’s abbreviated winter season began on Feb. 8 and Wheeler hasn’t played a girls’ basketball game yet due to two separate quarantines.

“It was pretty devastating, especially for the seniors,” Turner said. “Our team was looking to do well this year. We had done pretty well (in Division IV of the Eastern Connecticut Conference) last year. We were really coming along. We had a new coach (Dan McClure). The kids were really buying into what he was doing and the way they were playing the game. They ended on a very high note and were looking forward to playing this year.

“It just seems like every time we turn around the bottom just keeps falling out.”

The Lions previously quarantined before the season began. In both instances, Turner said, a player tested positive after a parent contracted COVID-19.

Wheeler planned to start its season on Feb. 16. Instead, six of its 10 games have either been postponed or canceled.

“It’s not the kids’ fault,” Turner said. “It was just something that happened. I don’t think our kids could’ve done anything different. I don’t think our school could’ve done anything different.”

Wheeler is one of many high school programs across the state which have been forced into quarantine this winter.

The Norwich Tech girls’ basketball team hasn’t played a game yet with seven games postponed and another canceled. Athletic director Tim DeLucia said the team returned to practice this week and is scheduled to host to Grasso Tech on Monday.

Bacon Academy girls’ basketball is also in quarantine, AD Kevin Burke said, and has postponed three games. The Bobcats can resume practice again next Thursday and are scheduled visit Norwich Free Academy the following night.

Wheeler’s troubles are unique because it’s happened twice and the Lions are one of the state’s smallest schools. The CIAC has 186 members state-wide and Wheeler ranks 184th in total enrollment (204, according to the CIAC website). Parish Hill is the only public school that is smaller (117).

“I think being a small school, some of things are helpful,” Turner said. “You are able to work with your kids a lot (because of small class sizes). … but because you’re school is small, when one child gets (infected), that impacts a lot of kids. That one child could be in four different classes with a bunch of different people.

“You may say it’s only 20 people, 20 people is a lot when you’re talking about (204) kids.”

The quarantine also affected the Wheeler boys in both instances because many players shared classes with the girls’ players. Five boys’ players quarantined both times, and two scheduled games this week were postponed.

The Wheeler boys have played just once (a 56-34 loss to Putnam on Feb. 16) and had only eight players available. The Lions are scheduled to return to play on Tuesday and have seven games left.

“There’s 13 players on each (basketball) team,” Turner said. “That’s 26 kids. Eighteen of them were quarantined … Eighteen out of 26 kids; basketball players. That’s significant. And that was just one child getting it because of the ripple effects.”

The Wheeler girls are scheduled to begin on March 9 at Griswold, one of four games left on their regular-season schedule. They Lions will also play in the league’s postseason “ECC Experience.”

Turner has also reached out to both Putnam and Tourtellotte about playing games should there be enough time between the end of the postseason experience and March 28, the final day of the winter season. She said both schools said they’d consider it.

“‘Don’t you worry,'” Turner told a few of the girls’ basketball players. “‘When you get back, you’ll still have games. … We’re going to try to get games in for you because the league has made an effort.’ “

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