Basketball, at the high school and college levels, is known for its March Madness with big crowds, memorable plays and championships.
But this year, high school basketball in South Carolina might be known for its craziness all season because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Take the Philip Simmons boys’ basketball team for example. The Iron Horses played only two non-region games this season and will play only four region games to determine the king of Region 6-AA.
“I know; it sounds crazy, right?” Coach Garrett Campbell said when explaining all the red strikethroughs on his team’s schedule. “If all goes well, we’ll get in those four games, and the region champion will get a No. 1 seed in the playoffs.”
But there’s more. After the region champ is crowned, the league will have a tourney where the other four teams will compete for a No. 2 and final seed. This year, the High School League has cut the playoff field in half, with only 16 teams qualifying.
“It’s definitely a new terrain for us,” said Campbell, whose team beat Lucy Beckham High 64-22 on Dec. 5 and lost to Military Magnet 69-63 three days later. “That being said, if there were ever a year to win a region championship, this is the year. You win four games, and that’s it. It’s just a four-game sprint rather than an eight-game race. If we can get it done, we can reach a milestone for us even as crazy as it has been.”
The team would be ready to play a game and then have it canceled because of the virus. It seemed like a never-ending process until the Iron Horses played at Woodland on Jan. 19 in the region-opener.
The Iron Horses are scheduled to play at Timberland on Jan. 22 and then host Burke on Jan. 29, and conclude with a home game against Lake Marion on Feb. 2.
“The kids just want to play so bad,” Campbell said. “They just want to play a game. They come to practice, go hard, trying to get some competition.”
The Iron Horses went 10-16 last season and the first task of the 2020-21 season was to find replacements for Marc Haight and Jaylen Green, who both topped 1,000 points in their careers.
Senior Antonio Leak, who has been in the program for four years, and junior Miles Haight are the top returners.
Leak averaged 12 points and four rebounds a game last winter while Haight tallied 9 points a game.
This is only the fourth year the school has fielded a varsity team. Campbell doesn’t think the program will take a step back because of the lack of games.
“The main thing is that we’ve practiced a lot even though we might not have played many games,” Campbell said. “That practice is important for younger players. We can still reach
our goals. We win four games, raise a banner and celebrate a big accomplishment.”