Janesville Craig’s Da’marcus DeValk shoots in front of near-empty stands during a game Dec. 30. Players aren’t the only ones on the court getting used to masks— officials also have had to adapt to masks during the pandemic.

Scott Huffman is one of the most respected and sought after basketball officials in southern Wisconsin.

A 22-year veteran of the hardwood, Huffman has refereed four WIAA state tournament games, including last year’s WIAA Division 3 girls state semifinal game between Wrightstown and Lake Mills at the Resch Center in Green Bay. The state tournament was canceled the next day, along with the boys tournament series, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

So when the 2020-21 basketball campaign started in December—albeit a month late—Huffman knew it would be a season unlike any other.

Players, coaches, officials and fans are all required to wear masks.

Many districts, including Milton, Middleton and Verona delayed the start of the season until this month. Milton’s boys and girls played their first games Monday.

And in-game protocols now include sanitizing the game ball during each timeout, no jump ball to begin the game and each team being given two extra timeouts.

That’s on top of temperature checks pregame for players and coaches, as well as visiting teams not having access to locker rooms.

“I really can’t put my finger on what it has been like,” Huffman said of the new COVID guidelines. “More than anything, I think it’s an extension of the end of last year when we did a state tournament game in front of maybe 80 people.

“It was so quiet during timeouts that day that I could literally hear WIAA officials on the phone taking questions and concerns from schools about what was going to happen. I figured that would be the last day of games for the girls and boys just based on what I heard.”

Huffman has officiated a half dozen or so games thus far this season but says his schedule will pick up heavily this month as more area teams begin play.

To give you an idea of how fluid scheduling and the hour-by-hour impact of the coronavirus is, look no further than how Huffman’s Tuesday unfolded. He was part of a three-man officiating crew for Janesville Craig’s boys nonconference win over Madison Edgewood. That was actually the fourth game Tuesday he was asked to do. The previous three assignments were either canceled or postponed due to COVID concerns. He got a call in the afternoon to see if he was available to sub in at Craig.

Huffman, like all other officials, is wearing a mask on the court for the first time. He struggled with a mask that was too tight or too loose his first couple games but has now found a mask with a built-in hook that he can attach his whistle to. The mask features a small pocket inside that the whistle falls into and can easily be placed back in his mouth with his hand outside of his mask.

As for the players, Huffman said that the WIAA has made it a point of emphasis that the mask is part of the uniform and should be worn correctly at all times.

“I’ve told several players to make sure their mask is covering both their nose and mouth and have given a couple of bench warnings, but so far I haven’t had to enforce the WIAA’s policy, which is to send a player to the bench for an equipment change or to get a mask that fits properly,” Huffman said.

“One thing I’ve done personally is not get too close to the players. I try to keep my distance. If they’re taking the ball out of bounds, I flip it to them or bounce it to them from a distance instead of handing it to them.”

An odd season indeed for Huffman, players, coaches and fans. But at this point, it’s better than no season at all.

Game of the Week

Janesville Parker (9-3) at Franklin (6-2), boys, nonconference, 5 p.m., Saturday, Franklin High School--A huge road test for the Vikings against one of the top teams in the Milwaukee area.

Franklin’s only two losses were to unbeaten and top-ranked Wisconsin Lutheran (Division 2) and Division 1 power Brookfield East.

The Sabers are led by Carter Capstran. The 6-foot-6 senior is averaging 18 points and nine rebounds a game and is being recruited heavily by a number of Division II schools.

Parker has put together its most productive season in decades but now faces its stiffest test.

Brenden Weis and Robert DeLong are both averaging more than 16 points a game for a very balanced and senior-dominated lineup.

Defensively, the Vikings are limiting opponents to 52.83 points a game.

Best guess: Franklin 72, Parker 65