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Night Flight Basketball League in Norwich suspended after player tests positive for COVID-19

Norwich — The popular privately run Night Flight Basketball League for youths and adults has been suspended by the city for two weeks after a player on a girls’ high school-age team tested positive for COVID-19.

The league, which has teams for high school-aged boys and girls and adult men and women, has been suspended until at least Aug. 10. A planned youth basketball clinic is postponed until at least mid-August.

League President Leonard Miller said the girl played in a game on July 20, but had been exposed unknowingly to the disease previously, not at a league event. The girl’s teammates, the opposing team and referees were contacted by the Uncas Health District for contact tracing. He credited league Vice President Cara Turner for contacting all the teams and making sure everyone understood the situation.

No information was available on whether any other league members have contracted the highly contagious coronavirus that causes the disease. But Uncas Health District Director Patrick McCormack said Friday that cases among people age 16 to 26 are on the rise. In the past eight days, 45% of new COVID-19 infections in the 11-town Uncas Health District were in that age group.

“We needed to take a break to see if other people test positive,” City Manager John Salomone said Friday of the decision to suspend Night Flight Basketball. “If other people test positive, then we would have to reconsider the league.”

Another concern is the large turnout of spectators, he said. With free admission at an open park, it would be difficult to limit attendance.

The league has about 400 players combined at all age levels and has a city permit to play at the Jenkins Park courts on Mechanic Street. Miller said play started the week of July 6-10, and the largest spectator crowds probably occurred that week. The Thursday night 12-team high school boys’ league draws the largest crowds, with some people staying for multiple games.

Miller said volunteer organizers make announcements for fans to keep socially distanced and to wear masks. The league has masks donated by the health district for anyone who comes without one. The league encourages older people and anyone who doesn’t have to come to stay home and watch the video feed on the league’s Facebook page.

If the league is allowed to resume play, Miller said he would move the boys’ league games to the three Robert Spayne Courts at the end of Mahan Drive at the city recreation complex, where there would be more room to spread out.

The high school girls’ league plays Mondays, a women’s league on Tuesdays, a middle school age group league on Wednesdays, and the men’s league on Friday nights.

“This is what the community wanted,” Miller said. “Everyone is playing. No one is staying indoors. We’re playing outdoors in the open air.”

About 60 youths have signed up for the Night Flight Basketball camp that was supposed to have run this week, Miller said. The league received 70 T-shirts donated by Norwich police, and former New London High School basketball great Tyson Wheeler was to be the guest speaker. Miller hopes to run the camp in mid-August at Jenkins Park if the city gives the league permission to resume play.

c.bessette@theday.com

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