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Coaches, players deal with shutdown

Trumbull schools not playing or practicing

First-year McDonald girls basketball coach Tony Matisi is not unfamiliar to the hardwood sidelines inside the warmth of a gymnasium — insulated from the frigid, late fall and winter months ominously circulating in northeast Ohio.

The reverberation of leather basketballs off the gymnasium floor, hearing the squeaking of rubber-soled sneakers, seeing friends, family, students and other fans gather inside for an upcoming game.

The COVID-19 pandemic and social distancing put a stop to the last of the aforementioned three items that are part of the high school basketball season.

On Tuesday, Trumbull County high schools went to online learning for the remainder of the calendar year and athletics were halted. All athletics and activities are suspended through at least Dec. 22, at which point Trumbull County’s public school districts will reassess the COVID-19 situation. John F. Kennedy High School and its lower campus is abiding by the recommendation from the Trumbull County Combined Health District.

The Blue Devils girls basketball team opened the 2020 season Monday with a 66-26 win over Columbiana in the friendly confines of McDonald High School’s gymnasium.

“It wasn’t like it came out of the blue,” said Matisi, who coached at Lowellville and South Range prior to McDonald. “These last three weeks, we were hanging by a thread. It wasn’t like we weren’t totally expecting it.

“I hope we get a chance to play after the first (of January). That’s all.”

Mark Komlanc, the John F. Kennedy boys basketball coach, has about four to five football players who played in the Division VII state championship game Nov. 20 on his basketball roster.

Komlanc said this is a good time for those players to recuperate and get their bodies in peak basketball shape when the season resumes.

“One of the things I’ve told them is athletics doesn’t define who they are,” Komlanc said. “It’s a part of who they are. I’ve been battling with that. I associate myself with being a coach. Having that taken away, even for a short period of time, is difficult.

“We’re a family. We rely on each other. We depend on each other. That’s going to help us get through this time.”

No practices. No games. Players have to rely on themselves to keep active these next couple of weeks.

Matisi sees no problem with his players, even if snow is in the forecast.

They’ll run, stay healthy. Each of them have basketball hoops at their residences.

“Half of them shovel if there’s snow, to shoot in the driveway,” Matisi said.

Komlanc said even if the season is shortened to 10 games and playoffs, he’s fine with that scenario.

“At least we have something,” he said. “That’s what we’re trying to get across to them right now.”

Matisi said since Mahoning, Portage and Columbiana County teams are still playing — as of Friday night — he and his staff will be watching games through Hudl and counting on coaches for videos of McDonald’s upcoming opposition.

“As long as we get a season in and the tournaments, I don’t care what they try to do,” Matisi said.

Komlanc wants his basketball family to stay together as one unit, even though they are away from the physical building.

“I want them to excel during this time and they’re bigger than what this situation is,” he said. “That’s difficult. For me personally, it’s difficult. They only way we get through it is together. We have to be bigger than this moment.”

Komlanc is at home with his wife and two daughters — ages 5 and 8. They are both doing virtual learning, while Komlanc is teaching at home.

“It’s a nice change of pace,” he said. “I get to see my wife and my daughters more than I normally would during this time. I’m trying to look at it as a positive. It’s a blessing. I get to spend more time with them than I normally would. I’m not only going to be teaching my classes, but I’m going to be an at-home school teacher for my two daughters.

“My wife still has to go to work. While there are a ton of negatives to it, we have to focus on the positives. I get a lot of time to spend with my two daughters and my wife where I normally wouldn’t get to. Hopefully they can put up with me instead of me putting up with them.”

Komlanc will enjoy the time at home, but he longs to return to the gym. It bring him solace.

“It gives me an opportunity to release some of my stress, as silly as that may sound,” he said. “The basketball gym is a place where I feel comfortable all the time. That being taken away is a little more difficult for my family than it is for me because they have to deal with me. It’s the same with our kids. They have something that was part of their lives they could depend on, that has been taken away from them and something they could count on and they no longer have it.

“All I could tell them is that I’m here for them.”

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