Jan. 4 will be the start of the winter sports season for Halifax County High School teams, a date that we didn’t think would ever come. The schedules for the winter sports teams were released on Wednesday for boy’s and girl’s basketball, wrestling and swim teams who will be the first ones back after a lengthy layoff due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

How long was that layoff exactly? Well if we go by the last game to be played that was not a scrimmage at the high school level you have to go back to March 6, the VHSL Class 4 state quarterfinal game that the Halifax boy’s basketball team played in. There were several middle school regular season games after that and spring sports scrimmages, but no regular season high school games had been played when things were shut down.

That will be 304 days that have passed when the boy’s and girl’s varsity basketball teams play Patrick County on Jan. 4. 304 days of waiting, wondering, hoping for some sort of positive news. Rarely was there any positive news. Just more postponements and cancellations that would leave us all wondering just when or if there would be high school sports played.

Everyone that has had a hand in making the return to sports possible deserves a round of applause. That means everyone from the top on down. It has been a long road to get to Jan. 4, and while it isn’t certain (because nothing is certain these days) it feels that we are on the path to returning to a sense of normalcy in the coming months.

The vaccines are rolling out to health care workers, and the general public is said to start receiving the vaccine by late spring. Once that begins to happen we should hopefully begin to see things return to the way they were. Until then, we must remain diligent in protecting ourselves and others from the virus.

I sat in on basketball practice recently, and while things were much different than I was used to, the game remained the same. Yes, there were masks being worn, chairs were six feet apart, there was a disinfectant mister that was used after each drill to sanitize the basketballs, health checklists that had to be filled out before the players could participate and so on, but doing these things is what is going to make the season happen in its entirety.

Safety is the number one concern for the players, coaches and game staff when it comes to the upcoming season. I have seen a lot of people comment on how sports can return but kids still have to do school virtually. I think the main thing is that these sports teams are no more than 15 players. It is a controlled environment with a small amount of kids and protocols in place to ensure their safety at one place, unlike with the multiple schools and thousands of students in them that is much harder to control.

There has been so much hard work, time and dedication from all involved to make this sports season happen, and it is my hope that everything goes smooth and these kids have a chance to participate in their season.

It has been a long road to get to where we are today. There were days when I didn’t think we would get to the point of practices and schedules being released, but thanks to those behind the scenes there is hope, and the light that we have vaguely seen at the end of the tunnel is getting brighter each and every day.

Here is to a safe and healthy season of winter sports.

Johnathan Kirland is a sports writer for The Gazette-Virginian. Contact him jkirkland@gazettevirginian.com. Follow him on Twitter @JohnathanK_GV