Basketball coaches talk about wearing masks

Foran boys basketball coach Ian Kirkpatrick believes letting players take breaks while wearing masks is the way to go.

Foran boys basketball coach Ian Kirkpatrick believes letting players take breaks while wearing masks is the way to go.

David G Whitham / For Hearst Connecticut Media

Basketball coaches from Foran High and Jonathan Law have weighed in on having their players wear masks this coming season due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Law head coach Jamie Anderson said, “We have faith in our school administration and health department to make the right decisions in order to keep our student-athletes and coaches safe and healthy. Whatever the final decision is, we have full confidence in them, and our players will be ready to go.”

Governor Ned Lamont has ruled that athletes between grades K-12 playing moderate risk indoor sports such as basketball must compete wearing a mask. The CIAC has moved the proposed starting date of the winter season to Jan. 19.

“It has to be safety first,” Law girls’ basketball coach Dan Young said, “The players are super competitive and want to return to play. Hopefully over the next two months we will have more information to prepare for the start.”

Foran girls’ basketball coach Bob Asmussen said, “As far as the girls wearing masks, I will trust what the DPH (Department of Public Health) and our Milford Health office recommends. Although it's not ideal and may take some getting used to, if it helps to have a season, I am sure that my girls will embrace it.”

Foran boys’ basketball coach Ian Kirkpatrick said, “Wearing masks will protect the players and I think mask breaks can be structured in an appropriate manner to keep players safe while on the court.”

Asmussen believes more changes may be made.

“I have heard there would be more mandatory timeouts and I will probably have to substitute a little more frequently if the mask wearing plan continues for the season,” he said. “I am just hoping for the health and safety of everyone and for my girls to have the chance to compete this winter.”

Dr. Matthew Rothbard, an athletic trainer who teaches athletic training at Southern Connecticut State University, feels it is safe to wear a mask as reported by Hearst Connecticut Media

“Is it safe? Yes, it is safe,” said Rothbard, who is in his 12th year at Southern Connecticut and has been an athletic trainer for more than two decades. “Athletes in close-proximity of each other, the prevention of spreading COVID outweighs the risk of negatively impacting performance. It outweighs the risk of not being able to play at all. If you give me a choice of playing with a mask or not playing at all, I’ll play with a mask.”

While Rothbard said it is safe and can be done, he feels wearing a mask will “negatively impact high intensity performance” starting with air flow to the lungs.

“That is called ventilation. It restricts air flow. It’s kind of like a chain reaction,” Rothbard said. “The second thing that happens is it decreases the body’s ability to transport and use oxygen. That in turn decreases the amount of oxygen in the blood and that’s called oxygen saturation.”

Rothbard noted that wearing a mask could also lead to a decrease in the power or ability to jump and athletes could become more fatigued quicker than normal because of the restricted oxygen flow.

“For close contact, you have to stay within close-proximity (of another person) for 15 minutes. Is there a risk? Sure, but it is minuscule, it’s negligible,” Rothbard said. “Of course, the mask is going to come off. It comes off when you are going to the grocery store. The masks are not custom fitted off the shelf. They are not perfect so you do the best you can with what you got.”

Bill Lunn, the director of the Human Performance Lab at SCSU, hopes to one day conduct tests with athletes wearing masks. Lunn said the lab is not currently conducting any tests due to the risk of exposure to COVID-19.

“If we were to test them, we could determine airflow through the mask at varying exercise intensities, and also could measure carbon dioxide output/oxygen uptake while wearing the mask,” said Lunn, also a professor in the Department of Health and Movement Sciences at the university. “I have seen anti-mask enthusiasts provide evidence of the danger of re-breathing carbon dioxide when wearing a mask, but these results are dubious, at best.”

Joe Morelli contributed to this report. Twitter: @blox354