This is probably not how Hazleton Area basketball coach Tim Barletta envisioned getting his varsity coaching career off the ground.

Due to COVID-19 concerns within the program, the Cougars will suspended team activities until Jan. 15 and will not be able to begin competitions until Jan, 18, Barletta said.

Hazleton Area needs three practices to fulfill the 10-practice mandate by the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association, the governing body of high school sports in the state.

“The kids are frustrated,” Barletta said. “It is very frustrating. What is important now to me is that somehow we have to get the kids back on the floor and give them a chance to play. It is not about me, it is not about our coaches. It is about saving this season for the kids, especially the seniors.”

Barletta is taking over a Hazleton Area team that finished 13-10 last season. A major hurdle he needs to overcome is the fact he has not had much time to implement his system. Due to various shutdowns since the summer, Barletta said the Cougars had no summer program and gym time was at a minimum. He estimates the team was been shut down 13 of the last 15 weeks.

“We really didn’t start our program yet,” Barletta said.

The Cougars returned to the court Monday when Gov. Tom Wolf lifted his recent coronavirus mitigation restrictions. Barletta said the team had one practice, then paused activities Tuesday as they awaited the results of a test.

Hazleton Area was scheduled to open its season Monday on the road in a nonleague game at Allentown Central Catholic. A game with North Pocono was tentatively scheduled for Wednesday and the regular-season opener Jan. 15 at home against Crestwood will be rescheduled.

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