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Veteran coach and VHSL advisor looks ahead to basketball’s return

South Boston News
George Lancaster / August 19, 2020

Bluestone varsity basketball and golf coach George Lancaster Sr. has seen his share of historical moments in his 40-plus years of teaching, leading and coaching student-athletes.

The Virginia High School League Hall of Fame coach is the winningest active basketball coach in Virginia, with more than 700 team victories to his record. Before returning to his native Mecklenburg County, Lancaster won two state titles at Highland Springs High School in Richmond, along with several other district and regional awards after 37 seasons there.

Yet even this seasoned coach says it’s hard to imagine anything else that has affected the sports world quite like the COVID-19 pandemic. Sports seasons have been cancelled or curtailed since the emergence of the coronavirus — on the professional, collegiate, and high school level, as well as recreational athletics impacted across the spectrum.

With all that’s occurring with schools — and the focus on simply getting kids back into classrooms in one form or another — the fate of high school athletics remains a constant focus among student-athletes, their families and fans.

Lancaster is a member of a VHSL opinions committee that has guided the organization’s response to COVID-19. Local school board decisions still have to be made regarding whether high school athletes will even play under the new system devised by the Virginia High School League, yet the preparation of kids to be ready to compete still has to go on.

“The kids literally call me every day saying, ’Coach, are we going to play?’” Lancaster said. “That’s still to be determined.

“The county (Central Office) will decide when we will be able to begin out-of-season practices. I’m hoping we will hear something soon.”

Lancaster’s philosophy regarding basketball is it’s a time to teach — not only basketball skills, but life skills. He noted that with the coronavirus, keeping student-athletes focused is a challenge.

“Sure you want the kids to have a running program, run, run, run …,” Lancaster said. “But that’s not realistic to expect of a young person, just running for the next four months. Plus the season doesn’t start until Dec. 14.

“I try to keep the kids engaged until we can get back to practice because you know, kids want to play. And I want to see that, too, but we must be mindful of the kid’s safety, always safety first.”

Lancaster said as a general thought, he’d like to see the gym be opened back up with teams that are set to compete first, having primary access to the gym. The VHSL’s choice of Model 3 to reboot high school athletics that means winter sports such as basketball, gymnastics, indoor track, swim/dive, and wrestling would resume play first.

“I would like to see each team getting two times a week in the gym, including Saturdays,” Lancaster said. “Of course [with] cleaning before and after each practice,” referring to the gym, equipment used and locker rooms.

Lancaster said he is developing a conditioning schedule that includes the wearing of masks and that promotes social distancing.

“Everybody needs a mask,” Lancaster said. “Running outside with social distancing measures and individual drills being some things.”

The coach said he is currently looking at a possible 12-game season for the Barons. There are ongoing discussions regarding possible state championships.

“I can see us playing Lunenburg, Randolph-Henry, Nottoway, Prince Edward, and Amelia, maybe Buckingham,” Lancaster said. “I don’t think I’d want us to go to Goochland and even with the others, transportation is always a concern now. But I can see a 12-game season happening.”

District champions could be determined from regular district standings and region participants from there. “Say the top two or four teams could go to the regions,” Lancaster offered as a thought.

“I doubt — but I don’t know — if a state or region playoff would be held in a large place, like the Siegel Center right now,” he continued. “I think if that happens they will be at an at-large venue.

“And even when we have games with the 50-percent capacity limit in place for right now … Bluestone’s gym I think will hold 500 people, so half of that is 250. And I’d like to see those wearing masks.”

Lancaster stressed the importance of getting back to sports as soon as safely possible. For the kids, athletics is an important component of growing up — and for sports programs being able to thrive.

“In making decisions, we want to do what’s best for the schools and the physical and cognitive development of our kids,” Lancaster said. “And we also want to make some money” for Bluestone athletics.

Lancaster did say he would miss the opening of football as students return to school. Friday night football is an essential part of high school life, he mused.

“I’m going to miss football kicking off the sports season and the start to a new school year,” Lancaster said. “It just feels like football really sets the tone for the school year. I’m going to miss it in the fall this year.”

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