2021 HOOPS SEASON IS HERE (And So Are Lots Of Changes, Challenges)

A new high school basketball season is upon us, and while each one is unique, the 2021 season promises to be completely different than any in Whatcom County hoops history.

Many things are in flux as most schools begin practice this week, and more changes still may be in store, but here are some of the new things we can expect as games begin next week for our 22 boys and girls basketball teams.

Check out WhatcomHoops.com this week for a story on the county’s seven new head coaches and previews of all 22 boys and girls teams.

New attendance rules

While no fans want to miss watching their favorite teams, our schools will be forced to follow state and WIAA guidelines, which means restrictions on attendance. In addition, each school will have its own rules for both home and visiting fans to follow.

Besides the requirements to wear masks and to social distance, rules will include limitations to the number of fans that can attend. Currently, the Northwest Conference rule is 25 percent of the gym’s capacity up to 400 people. That number includes players, cheerleaders, and school workers.

However, how those tickets/seats will be distributed is still being decided by schools and may include limited amounts to visiting teams.

Fans are encouraged first of all to check with their own schools concerning regulations and to be both gracious and understanding in obeying the rules. We may not all get to see all the games we want, but we need to be grateful for the games we can attend.

New leagues members

The name is the same — the Northwest Conference — but due to student counts and other factors, the conference will have two new faces. Welcome Mount Vernon and Oak Harbor — both Class 3A schools — to the NWC, giving the league 15 teams.

The 10 Whatcom County schools will remain the same — Class 3A Ferndale; Class 2A Bellingham, Lynden, Sehome, and Squalicum; and Class 1A Blaine, Lynden Christian, Meridian, Mount Baker, and Nooksack Valley.

For the Borderites, this will be a return to 1A after many years in 2A. For the Storm, it’s a drop to 2A with city rivals Bellingham and Sehome.

Also in the NWC will be Skagit County returnees Anacortes, Burlington-Edison, and Sedro-Woolley, all three of which will be in Class 2A.

The other change is the temporary transfer of Lakewood to the Western Conference (WesCo). Because of concerns involving COVID restrictions in the different counties, Lakewood’s administration felt it would be better to join the Snohomish County league, at least for this year.

As for the Northwest 1B Conference, Lummi Nation will join returnees Cedar Park Christian (Lynnwood), Fellowship Christian, Grace Academy, Lopez, Orcas Christian, Providence Christian, Shoreline Christian, Skykomish and Tulalip Heritage. The new member will be Darrington, which moved down from the 2B ranks this year.

Limited and unusual schedules

In a season of difficult adjustments, perhaps the worst is dealing with team schedules. The new league formats as well as concerns about competitiveness and, of course, the possibility of COVID-related changes will make this a nightmare for athletic directors and coaches.

The current plan is to have each team play a maximum of 14 games. For most schools, that will mean a dozen conference games and two non-conference games, although how that plays out is up to the schools.

Some conference teams may face off more than once during the season and others may not play each other at all. And, again, one COVID outbreak could force teams to cancel or reschedule multiple games, which means ADs are writing their schedules in pencil not pen.

With so much changing even daily, fans are asked to visit their school’s website for the latest updates. And let’s be patient and grateful for all the hard work that is being done by coaching staffs and administrations on behalf of our student athletes.

No post-season, no titles

Just like the fall and spring sports, there will be no post-season competition for boys and girls basketball. Plans are to wrap up the conference schedules by June 19.

In a time when our Whatcom County schools are regularly playing for state championships and sending most of our teams to the playoffs, this will be a great disappointment to many, especially the seniors playing their final prep seasons.

But the decision is out of local hands as the WIAA already has determined that there will be no district, bi-district or state tournaments.

Northwest Conference and Northwest 1B Conference standings will be kept, but because the abbreviated schedules won’t allow teams to play everyone in the league, no official champions will be crowned.

Seven new head coaches

Of our 22 Whatcom County teams, nearly a third have new varsity head coaches.

So we want to welcome Darcie Hill (Bellingham girls), Sarah Tom (Lummi Nation girls), Aaron Bogaard (Lynden girls), Tim Zylstra (Lynden Christian boys), Vic Wolffis (Meridian girls), Ken McLendon (Mount Baker girls), and Tyler Hannigan (Squalicum boys).

Jim Carberry of Whatcom Hoops

Jim Carberry is a former Bellingham Herald sports editor and author of several books on Whatcom County prep basketball. Follow him on Twitter @whatcomhoops and visit the Whatcom Hoops Facebook page.

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