Think your family has been disappointed by canceled or altered trips?
Well, how about the University of Alabama basketball team? It was set to play in the Maui Jim Invitational in Hawaii – but the tournament will now be in Asheville, a splendid location but notably insufficient when it comes to surf and sand.
No sport or location has been immune to the effects of COVID-19, including Huntsville. There are struggles ahead, and still many unknowns. However, our community’s ability to – here’s that pandemic buzzword – pivot and move forward is testament to the resilience of our hospitality partners and versatility of our venues. Let’s take a look at the sports landscape, locally, regionally and nationally.
High school football is well under way, and basketball practice will begin in less than a month.
UAH basketball is to begin play in January, and the UAH hockey season is postponed indefinitely, pending a decision from the Western Collegiate Hockey Association. The opening date had been scheduled for October 3.
Alabama A&M will have a six-game football schedule starting in February, with just two home games. Circle that homecoming game date of March 27 vs. Grambling on your calendar.
The Huntsville Havoc, whose 2019-20 season was cut short, has been forced to lay off some employees and is in limbo for its starting date, as the Southern Professional Hockey League monitors re-opening mandates in such “southern” states as Illinois, Indiana and Iowa.
The Rocket City Trash Pandas, blessed with the wide-open spaces of Toyota Field, have been able to hold numerous events, including movie nights, block parties and, upcoming, a wine and beer festival. It has brought some consolation – and a lot of practice in non-baseball events – having lost their inaugural Southern League season to the coronavirus.
Another April 2020 debut was struck by the virus – the Huntsville Championship PGA Korn Ferry Tour event at The Ledges. The inaugural tournament begins April 29, 2021, and tickets will go on sale to the public in late October or November. Other volunteer opportunities will be available then, as well.
Huntsville’s new John Hunt Park Sand Volleyball Park, which opened in the summer of 2019, proved a valuable asset when the Beach Volleyball Junior Nationals couldn’t be held in Huntington Beach, Calif., this past July, but could be shifted here. More than 300 teams from across the country participated.
Numerous other organizations have recently scheduled events in Huntsville, including the Intercollegiate Tennis Association (Sept. 2020 and Nov. 2020 tournaments), U.S. Youth Soccer Organization (Oct. 2020) and King Kat Tournament Trail (April 2021). Many other groups are extending their long relationships with Huntsville or considering the area for competitions. Particularly attractive to organizers are the spectacular Huntsville Aquatics Center, the new cross country course at John Hunt Park and the expansion of Merrimack Soccer Complex to include four artificial turf fields – with four more to come.
Meanwhile, area sports fans are eagerly awaiting, or already embracing, spectator sports regionally and across the country.
Southeastern Conference football begins on Sept. 26, each team playing a 10-game intraconference schedule. Auburn’s first home game is Sept. 26 vs. Kentucky; Alabama’s first home game is Oct. 3 against Texas A&M. The Big 10 recently announced it will begin play on Oct. 24, joining the SEC, ACC and Big 12 among the Power 5 conferences on the field.
Talladega Superspeedway race weekend is Oct. 2-4. A limited number of fans will be allowed, and some campsites are open. Masks required and temperatures will be taken at the gate. Though a few tracks canceled their races this year, NASCAR has been able to reconfigure to run its entire 36-race schedule this year.
The “bubble” plans for the NBA and NHL have proven successful. Both leagues were able to complete their regular seasons (in Orlando for basketball, in Toronto and Edmonton for hockey) and are headed into the championship rounds of their playoffs.
Major League Baseball is adopting a bubble for postseason, with playoff games in San Diego, Los Angeles, Houston and Arlington, Tex. The World Series will be at a neutral site, in Arlington.
And though teams may have to say aloha – the goodbye version of that word – to games in Hawaii this season, NCAA Division I college basketball will start the season on Nov. 25.