With a chill in the evening air, now is the time of year when the Outer Cape’s pickup basketballers normally move indoors. On weeknights throughout the winter, the elementary school gyms here host adults who come to shoot hoops and play impromptu games.
It’s a ritual, the players say, that gets them through the long season. And it’s as much about mental health as physical fitness to know that, whether you’re having a good week or a bad one, on Tuesday and Thursday nights you’ll see some friends and fellow players at Eastham or Wellfleet Elementary School for a night of hooping.
But it seems that tradition will be on hold this winter. Both Wellfleet Recreation Director Becky Rosenberg and Eastham Recreation Director Christine Mickle confirmed this week that their departments will not be running any pickup basketball sessions until further notice.
The weekly pickup games are usually posted in a Facebook group that reaches more than 300 people across the Cape. But the group has been pretty much dormant since March. Since there wasn’t much organized pickup ball over the summer, players were looking forward to winter for their usual fix.
Though the news comes as a blow to the locals who rely on the indoor court time, they say they understand the need for caution.
Under the circumstances, said Mike Warren of Orleans, staying off the court makes sense, but he’d like to get back to it because “basketball gets my mind off the outside world and just be free.”
Eastham native Jake McGrath was disappointed, too. “We’re losing that joy and competition that we look forward to each week,” he said.
McGrath added that there aren’t many social spots for young people on the Outer and Lower Cape.
“Pickup is vital,” said Crash Pechukas-Simonian of Wellfleet. “It brings people together. It is the only game where all you need is a place to play. They open the doors, and, even if only two people walk in, they can still play.”
Rick Marvin of Eastham shuddered to think about the “long drawn-out” winter ahead. “Rain and winds are consistent enough where it’s hard to get the exercise we need,” he said. “Once a week, we all look forward to meeting in a gym and getting our shots up and socializing as we join in and play the game we love.”
Marvin said he thinks it could be possible for pickup ball to resume in a safe manner, but he admitted that might be wishful thinking.
“Obviously, I’m not an expert, but if there’s any way to keep us on the court, it’d be a shimmer of light in this godforsaken year of 2020,” he said.
It’s hard to imagine a winter without basketball. The coronavirus forced the National Basketball Association to pause and restructure its season. In a normal year, the NBA season would be starting right now, but, instead, the season just ended last week. So, even on TV, there is no basketball on the horizon.
Of course, local players can shoot around on their own or maybe play H-O-R-S-E with friends. And a few are determined to try out other sports, at least for the time being.
McGrath said he’ll try lifting weights more often. “I’ll hit the gym,” he said, “but it’s not the same as getting to run around and play ball.”
Warren said he has “picked up biking on the local bike trails and small trail hiking.” And now that winter is approaching, he said, “my weekend time will mostly be occupied with snowboarding.”
Pechukas-Simonian has a more couch-oriented plan. “To fill the void,” he said, “I’ll watch Steve Nash highlights and lament.”