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SL opens gym; will a basketball season be next?

Jonathan Zalewski dribbles a basketball on Monday when the gymnasium at Saranac Lake High School reopened. Also pictured from the left are Raymond Santiago, Landon Faubert, Dermott Morgan and James Catania. (Enterprise photo — Lou Reuter)

SARANAC LAKE — On Monday, the gymnasium at Saranac Lake High School opened for student use for the first time since March.

Looking at the gym’s gleaming, scuff-free floor, one could imagine that it was the first day of classes instead of midway through the school year. But in reality, Saranac Lake’s gymnasium had been sitting vacant for nearly a year before finally coming back to life.

To open the gym safely, coronavirus protocols have been put in place, with one rule being a limited amount of people using the gym at the same time. On Monday, 24 boys spent time on the floor during three separate sessions. On Tuesday, girls had their initial chance to use the facility.

Currently, off-season conditioning for basketball is taking place, meaning workouts are not mandatory and are open to all students. Saranac Lake Central School Director of Athletics Eric Bennett said if all goes well, actual team practices and maybe even games may follow during the month of March.

During Monday evening’s session in the gym, Bennett spoke to the four students in attendance before they began running, and dribbling and shooting basketballs under the guidence of Dermott Morgan, a physical education teacher and head Red Storm boys varsity basketball coach.

To start off, everyone using the gym must wear a facemask at all times. Participants have their own ball and shoot at their own hoop. Students using the gym must sign up ahead of time, hand in a health form, be prompt for their scheduled session and immediately leave the building when that session is over.

“We just want you to get some reps, get in shape, be in a gym and do it the right way,” Bennett said while addressing seniors James Cantania and Jonathan Zalewski, junior Raymond Santiago and sophomore Landon Faubert. “If we can prove we can do this the right way, maybe the fitness center is the next thing to come on line for us all. We’re going to start off doing basic drills with you and your own hoop, and we’re hoping to progress as time goes on.

“Some Section VII schools might be starting basketball mid-February,” Bennett continued. “We are likely going to try to start March 1 — an actual season. Once that happens we move away from one person at each basket, and we’re going to start doing regular practices. If all goes as planned, it would be a first week of practices and three weeks of games. It’s not optimal, but it’s better than nothing.”

“I wasn’t thinking we were going to have a season,” Morgan said. “Then all of sudden, we’ve been talking, and coach Bennett got a hold of us and said there’s a possibility we might have a season.

“We kind of all feel like we’re the racehorse who’s been put into the starting gate, and then they keep backing us out,” Morgan continued. “When I told the guys about 48 hours ago that we’re going to open up the gym and we might have a season, they were going through the roof. They’re excited. It wouldn’t be the best season — only three weeks in March. It’s all depending on the average COVID rate in the (Franklin) county.”

Sixteen junior-varsity-aged students were the first to use the gym, with eight in each session. Eight varsity-aged boys signed up for the late session, but just four showed up to participate. Bennett said he expected between 16 and 20 girls would take advantage of gym use Tuesday.

“It feels good, but I feel really rusty, out of shape; gotta shake that off,” Zalewski said. “It’s fun being here. The last time I was here was about a year ago.”

It’s still up in the air whether and actual competitive basketball season will happen for the Red Storm. It’s been deemed a high-risk sport due to contact and because it’s played indoors. But by being able to open the gym and inviting all interested students, Saranac Lake is at least heading in the right direction.

“Off-season conditioning is something Mrs. (school district superintendent Diane) Fox and I have been talking about for a little while, and how we’d do it when the time was right,” Bennett said. “It seemed like doing this is a natural segue into a potential winter season for our kids. The door is starting to open a little bit, and we’re excited to have the opportunity. We want to prove we can do this the right way, and this is a great opportunity for us to do that.”

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