Putting on a game (during a pandemic) the Blaze way

The Clinton Blaze and Lady Blaze basketball teams are in the midst of the 2020-21 season and it’s a campaign unlike any other that anyone has ever seen.

The nation, state and community are living a new normal and have had to adjust in an environment gripped by the coronavirus pandemic.

And those involved in elementary school basketball have had to adapt as the Blaze and Lady Blaze are playing their home games at the Clinton Community Center.

Social distancing and sanitation come to the forefront, and that process begins in the mid-afternoon for games that tip off at 6 p.m. The man who oversees the sanitation process is Clinton City Parks and Recreation Director Zeke Rich.

Rich, who also serves as a club swim coach and coaches the Blaze aquatics program, feels that he answered a call to be a community servant.

“When I got hired in Clinton at the community center, the city recreation director, Jason Brown, told me that I was here to serve the community,” Rich said. “Whether you’re serving one person or a thousand, you’re serving the community, so you give it your best.

“My crew is serving the community.”

Game day begins at 3 p.m. for Rich and his crew.

They prepare the gym to meet coronavirus protocols.

“Basically, what we do is set up the gym so it’s socially distant and then we sanitize, then we have to leave and let that set because we were in there,” Rich said.

And that’s only the beginning.

Following the first game of a boys-girls double-header, the gym is cleared while Rich and his crew take about 20 minutes to clean the gym.

“That’s hard, but it’s what we have to do,” Rich said. “We have two people on our crew who clean up the gym between games.”

In the COVID-19 environment, Rich said that virtually the entire community center is utilized on game night.

“Some of the policies that we use will probably be used always and forever and things have changed in the last 10 months,” Rich said. “Every team has to have their own staging area, including the refs.

“My staff works hard.”

While Rich and crew work tirelessly to make sure that’s there’s elementary school basketball in Clinton, but he acknowledges that it’s a team effort between the recreation department and Clinton City Schools and Superintendent Kelly Johnson and CCS athletics director E.T. Stamey.

“Our staff and the city schools staff work together and we create an atmosphere for sports,” Rich said. “And I think that’s really important.”