COTTONWOOD HEIGHTS, Utah — Sixty-thousand Jr. Jazz youth basketball players begin practice this week.
While some local leagues decided to sit this season out because of COVID-19, other leagues are seeing large numbers of new players sign up.
Thursday marks the the first day of basketball practice - ever - for 11-year-old Jack Burt.
“I’m a little nervous that I will mess up,” said Jack.
Even in a pandemic, the Cottonwood Heights athlete thought 2020 was the year to try his luck on the hardwood wearing a Jr. Jazz jersey.
“I’m hoping that I will be able to learn some new things about basketball,” said Jack.
This season, about 80 new players signed up to play youth basketball.
So many, in fact, program coordinators capped the number of players around 450 for the first time.
“More teams, more coaches, more kids,” said Ethan Jones, Cottonwood Heights Rec Center.
The Jr. Jazz program asks individual leagues to come up with safety measures.
In Cottonwood Heights, Jones requires only one spectator per player, with masks and social distancing enforced. Benched players and coaches must wear masks, too.
“We want to be able to get this program going. It depends on the kids and parents following the rules so we can keep Jr. Jazz going here in Cottonwood Heights,” said Jones.
Salt Lake County-run leagues are among those who opted to indefinitely postpone the season because of COVID-19.
Sitting out the season is tough decision individual players are making, too.
“I don’t want to spread it or give it to other people because you can’t social distance while playing basketball,” said 13-year-old Isabel Ashbridge.
This is the first season since starting in kindergarten that Isabel won’t play for Jr. Jazz.
“I feel like it hurts people though because sometimes COVID can have long term effects and it spreads to a lot of people,” said Ashbridge.
Jr. Jazz staff wouldn’t say how many leagues canceled the season, but those who started this week are seeing strong numbers of players.
Staff credits that to displaced players switching over to new leagues and active kids, like Jack, needing an outlet during tough times.
“I’m glad there are a bunch of people on the team,” said Jack.