Shelton basketball coaches talk about wearing masks

Brian Gardiner believes players can make the adjustment.

Brian Gardiner believes players can make the adjustment.

Bill Bloxsom / Hearst Connecticut Media

Shelton High basketball coaches, Brian Gardiner for the boys and Joe Cavallaro for the girls, have weighed in on their players wearing masks this coming season due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The players would rather play in masks than not play at all,” Gardiner said. “They played the last three fall league games with them on and it was definitely an adjustment.”

Cavallaro, while acknowledging that safety first is always the way to go, had a different take on the rule handed down by Governor Ned Lamont that athletes between grades K-12 playing moderate risk indoor sports such as basketball must compete wearing a mask.

“I think playing indoors with masks is going to be a real challenge,” Cavallaro said. “The girls on my team who played volleyball felt it was difficult but doable. Basketball is a different case. I believe all AAU was played without masks, so we have little to go on.”

Gardiner is looking to find the best manner to move forward.

“Just like anything, the players and coaches will have to adjust to the new rules,” he said. “The parents and I are looking into different masks that are sport specific. We're just hoping we get to play this season (proposed start date on January 19).”

Cavallaro would like to move the season opener even later.

“In my opinion, girls’ basketball should be moved to that middle season where they may play football starting in mid to late February,” he said. “Other states like North Carolina are playing with masks so hopefully we can get a better idea over the next month or two and see how safe and workable it is.”

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