Back to drills on the community centre court last week. BERNIE PUCHALSKI

Pelham basketball resumes red zone training

Off the court for more than two months because of the province-wide lockdown to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, Luke Klassen made a joyous return to Pelham’s community centre last week.

“I can’t wait,” the Grade 11 student at E.L. Crossley said, moments before stepping on the court. “It’s a lot different than being at home on the driveway. You do as much as you can but being out there with the guys is going to be so nice.”

The 16-year-old Niagara-on-the-Lake resident, a member of the Niagara Basketball United Grade 11 squad, was thrilled when he got the news his team would return to the gym, thanks to Niagara entering the red zone last Monday.

“I was so excited,” he said.

The announcement from the province that Niagara would enter the red zone set the wheels in motion for the Pelham Panthers Basketball Association to return to non-contact drilling in the gym.

“We had been preparing for whatever colour we would have and we had done up mock schedules whether it was orange or red,” Panthers president Brian Bleich said. “The difference is orange you can be with your team and red is ten people per gym with one coach.

“When it was announced red, we quickly put the kids into groups of 10, not all by team but by age and we moved forward and plugged them into the schedule.”

Female players starting practicing again on Tuesdays and the male players started Wednesdays. Sessions run from 3:30 PM to 9:30 PM during the week. There are two groups of 10 training during each time slot. There are about 400 athletes training, including Pelham boys and girls travel team players, Niagara Juel and Juel Prep female players, and members of the Niagara Basketball United boys program.

Bleich created an online spreadsheet for coaches to sign up to run training sessions and 65 to 70 coaches are giving of their time to help train their players.

“I thought I would have some pushback with some people saying their son or daughter couldn’t come because of the new [COVID] variants but it never happened,” he said. “I got a lot of thank-yous by email congratulating us for making this happen so fast.”

Bleich and the entire Pelham organization knows the service they provide is badly needed.

“Having my own kids at home, I know it’s about mental health, getting them back on the floor and getting them in shape in the wintertime. They can’t go out for a bike ride and this a way to get their bodies moving and their blood flowing.”

Pelham Panthers’ efforts have been appreciated by its players.

“You see a lot of smiles when they are coming in here and they are happy just to be back in the gymnasium and not at home,” Bleich said. “They want to get out of the house and this is a place they can now go besides school.”

The Panthers are lucky compared to most of Niagara’s other basketball associations because they have a gym they can use and are not dependent on school facilities which aren’t available to rent because of the pandemic.

“We are the most fortunate in Niagara to have two gyms available to us at this time,” Bleich said.

He is wishing for better days ahead for the province and basketball.

“We are hoping to have some sort of summer training program and then August and September tryouts for our OBA [Basketball Ontario] teams again,” he said. “We should know better by June. It depends on where we sit with the vaccines for adults.”

During the lockdown, Pelham basketball organized Zoom training sessions with Lequan Hylton doing sessions on basketball skills and Keveshan Padachey focusing on athletic development. The athletic development sessions will continue on Wednesdays.


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