TORRINGTON – The Torrington High School golf and tennis teams began practice on Monday, facing some very unique guidelines due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Those two teams also face uncertainty as they open their seasons this weekend in the first Wyoming High School Activities Association sponsored events since Thursday, March 12 when the Class 3A and 4A State Basketball Championships were canceled.
Practice has gone well so far for both teams.
“It’s not bad so far,” THS golf coach Jeff Halley said.
“Actually, it’s going pretty well,” Blazer tennis coach Curtis Birkley added.
That is an encouraging sign as both teams begin their seasons this weekend because the eyes of the WHSAA are upon the early events to see how they will go.
“I think the state is really watching how golf goes because we are the first ones,” Halley said. “I think Ron (Laird) would love to see us to get through with no issues so he can see we can do this.”
Golf will also see the fewest changes.
“Golf is probably the easiest one to deal with because it’s spaced out and it’s outside,” Halley said. “Our biggest difference isn’t going to be the golf. It’s going to be the travel. We aren’t staying overnight. We have to be a lot more careful on the bus. When we eat, it’s going to be order and take it on the road.”
One of the biggest changes to the tournament weekends will be fact teams won’t be allowed to warm up. They won’t be allowed to use the practice green nor the driving range.
“Basically, we’ll crawl off the bus, swing the club a little bit and go play,” Halley said. “Golf is nice because we are already social distancing because of the fresh air and big space.”
However, that is not the case at team practices.
“With our own practice, there are no real restrictions,” Halley said. “We can use the range at our own place. We can use the putting greens. We are still doing our social distancing thing. If we can’t do that, we are supposed to wear masks.”
Tournament size, no award celebrations, not being able to touch the hole flags or sand trap rakes are some of the other changes in effect this fall.
Tournaments will be limited to 40 participants on 9-hole courses and 80 on 18-hole courses, which will affect this weekend’s season-opening tournament at Wheatland’s 9-hole course.
The Wheatland Invite will feature two single-day tournaments.
“We’ll only have three teams on Thursday and another four teams on Friday,” Halley said.
In fact, the only two-day tournament the golf teams will see this season will be at state.
As far as tennis goes, the team has been broken down into smaller groups they are calling pods.
“We are using as many courts as we possibly can with anywhere from four to five kids on a court,” Birkley said.
However, that is proving to be a benefit for the Blazers.
“Kids are getting more hits on the ball, and I think our kids got out more this summer because they didn’t have anything else to do,” Birkley said. “Tennis was a safe sport to play, and it’s one of the best sports to play right now during COVID.”
Players are getting their temperatures checked and have to go through a series of questions produced by the school district prior to being able to practice.
“I can’t give high-fives. I can’t do those kinds of things anymore,” Birkley said. “You have to learn how to encourage and support in a different way. That’s a safety issue, and I’m okay with that. It’s just different and usual.”
As far as how matches are going to go, Birkley isn’t sure how that will play out yet.
“It’s going to be different because we can’t do the introductions that we used to do,” he said. “The gentleman’s game that is tennis is going to be a little more hands off.”
There will be no midseason tournaments and a limited junior varsity schedule.
“We will still have regionals and state, but they will look a little bit different,” Birkley said. “They will be a little more spread out. People are going to have to stay in those locations.”
The tennis team opens their season on Saturday in Gillette against Campbell County High School and Thunder Basin High School.
As the season quickly approaches, the players are buying into the new way of doing things.
“They are resilient,” Birkley said. “They are like, ‘Okay. Whatever we need to do to just play.’ They just want to play and be around each other even if it is at a distance.”