SHS winter sports fans can expect COVID-19 safety protocols

Academic life is gradually moving in the direction of normalcy at Sequoyah Schools, but safety precautions will be in place for winter sports events. 

TAHLEQUAH – Though the COVID-19 pandemic may be running out of steam, sports fans attending Sequoyah High School winter sports can still expect some safety protocols when they gather indoors to watch the Indians compete in basketball and wrestling.

“The safety of our students, staff, and the public is our top priority,” said Marcus Crittenden, athletic director. “SHS is one of the safest places to be. We have a very high student vaccination rate, currently over 67%. We COVID test weekly and we have been wearing masks and employing several other COVID precautions since March 2020.”

Crittenden said Sequoyah athletics will continue close consultation with Cherokee Nation Health Services and the CN administration to ensure students can compete and fans can cheer safely.

“Fans can expect continuation of a mask requirement and appropriate distancing for that time as determined by CNHS with heavy influence from CDC guidelines,” Crittenden said. “All of our fall sports have competed with minimal COVID interruptions, and those were due to COVID issues with opponents, not us. We had one volleyball game cancelled and two softball games postponed. That’s it.”

Other SHS sports have not seen COVID schedule changes, and Crittenden said hopes are high that winter sports can also avoid disruptions.

“Our wrestling crowds are generally smaller, so distancing should be easier,” he said. “Hopefully, our vaccination rate will continue to climb and the number of COVID cases in our area will continue to drop. We’re excited to have our students back on campus and engaged in activities again with fans cheering for them. We are also excited to have a new automated camera and streaming system that will allow us to video livestream all of our home games for our fans who might not be able to join us in person.”

The SHS coaches are looking forward to getting their teams back in the gym and representing SHS.

Justin Brown, head coach for the girls basketball team, said he was expecting some “rust” but believed his team would be ready by season’s start.

“Off-season workouts have been good,” Brown said. “We have about 10 girls in the gym at the moment and they have done really well. I think sophomore Annaston Brown is a player to keep an eye on. She has worked very hard on her game and I expect big things from her. With a long layoff comes some uncertainty. We really don't know what we've got right now as a team. We have very few athletes with any varsity experience. I anticipate some growing pains early but I think come playoff time we'll be ready.”

Wrestling coach Brad Jones said his team is also working to get itself back into rhythm.

“We knew the transition back to normalcy and an athletic routine would take some adjustment from our students,” Brown said. “We are focusing mainly on conditioning and basic fundamentals. We have to focus on our work ethic. Being out a year, it can be hard to get back to the grind of the season.

As for some prospects who could make big contributions to the Indians’ wrestling success in 2021-22, Brown pointed to Eli Hammer and Eric Walters, who he said “are set to make some strides on the mat.”

Jeff Walker, who is in his first year as the boys basketball coach, said the 18-month layoff would present challenges, but that the team – with some determined players – would be ready to compete despite missing game experience.”

“Practice and workouts are going well,” Walker said. “We don’t have everyone in the gym yet, but the ones we have are working hard to get stronger and improve their fundamentals. At this point, we are just focused on developing and improving players. My main focus is on our team’s success, but we do have some talented players who I am sure will get some media attention.”

During the season, Walker will have the Indians focused on improving with each outing.

“You want to be playing your best basketball in February,” he said. “We know we have a tough schedule. I’m new to Sequoyah so there is also a challenge to get comfortable within a new system, but I’m confident the guys will be ready to meet those challenges. We are going to need to defend and rebound at a high level to give us chances to be successful. I think offensively we will improve as we gain experience with each game, but we want to make sure we are taking high percentage shots within the offense.”