MONTGOMERY COUNTY, Md. — For eleven months, basketball courts inside Montgomery County recreation centers sat quiet and empty due to the pandemic.
Hosting practices and games was too risky due to the spread of coronavirus, and as a result, people and teams were turned away.
However, Tuesday marked the return of gym sounds: from basketballs hitting off the rim to sneakers squeaking on the floor during a drive to the basket.
Almost a year after the pandemic forced community facilities to close, four recreation centers will now be able to host children and adults for small instructor-led sessions for basketball, pickleball, fitness, and boxing.
Montgomery County Recreation Director Robin Riley told WUSA 9 that the ongoing spread of coronavirus meant all the community facilities hosting programs would need to follow strict rules: from hanging proper signage around the concourse and participants signing a COVID-19 waiver to capping the size of classes to small numbers and putting up hand sanitizer stations.
"If we can find ways to do it safely and in person, we felt it was a good opportunity to open the doors," she said. "We know that everybody is really looking forward to getting back to some level of normalcy. This is our opportunity to provide one small glimpse of it.”
Inside the North Potomac Community Center on Tuesday afternoon, basketball coach Carl Parker held a practice session with eight children.
All the players wore personal protective masks throughout the class, even when shooting and playing, and were asked to stay at least six feet apart during moments Parker was teaching the fundamentals of the game.
Parker has been a basketball teacher for the past 28 years and the return to the gym on Tuesday brought plenty of excitement.
"We’ve been gone for a whole year. No summer camps. No spring programs," he said. "This is the first time that we’ve been in the building since February.”
Due to the small group and the size of the gym, almost every child was able to have their own basket for shooting.
As a father, Parker said he knew the importance of bringing back sports and activities for children.
"Even my kids at home are playing more video games than we’ve ever allowed them to play in their lives. They’re just not moving," he said. "This is the first time they’ve opened the gates to be inside the building.”
Parker said that two of his basketball classes filled up in a matter of hours after registration opened.
For now, Montgomery County Recreation says the Bauer Drive, North Potomac, Plum Gar, and White Oak community centers will be the only ones to host the sports classes.
They will be offered every Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday for the next four weeks.
If everything goes well over that time, Riley said fitness rooms in the county may be able to reopen by appointment only and for family outings.
Moving forward, she said the return of recreational sports brought a great sign of progress during the pandemic.
"Being able to have that social and emotional engagement of being in a class. engaging in something fitness-related and being able to see someone and talk with someone even ten feet away is really important," Riley said.
More information on sports and fitness programs for children and adults in Montgomery County can be found here.