NORTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. (WPRI) — An early end to winter sports last year meant North Kingstown boy’s basketball team did not have a chance to defend its championship.

So for Coach Aaron Thomas, the return of winter sports this year is better late than never.

“A lot of these kids in high school, they live for this moment,” Thomas said.

The Rhode Island Interscholastic League (RIIL) announced Friday that low- to moderate-contact winter sports, including basketball, gymnastics, ice hockey, indoor track and field and swimming, can begin practicing on Jan. 4.

Thomas said while he’s thankful the winter sports season wasn’t canceled, he is concerned about the state date. He said the season will start five weeks later than usual, giving teams only two weeks to practice.

“It’s going to be 10 days in, we’ll start playing games and however many games it happens to be, and it’s going to be pretty quick,” he said.

Though questions regarding playing sports amid the pandemic remain, Thomas said student-athletes have been waiting for this opportunity.

“Now we’re going to get the opportunity and we hope it’s not going to be taken away,” Thomas said.

Safety restrictions will be put into place by RIIL, but as of right now, there will be no major rule changes to the game.

Thomas said one restriction that does raise some questions about who will get the privledge to suit up this season.

“Basically, you’re allowed 16 people to be in the group, or pod, and that includes coaches and players,” he explained. “There’s a lot of schools out there that have a lot of coaches, so that could limit the actual number of kids who get to play on the team.”

Despite this, Thomas welcomes the return to the court. He said this news will be great for the kids’ social life and mental health.

Even with the restrictions, he and his team are ready to play ball.

“I really think it is what it is, if you’re going to play you’ve got to wear a mask,” he said. “Put the mask on, play, and let’s go.

Thomas said he has no expectations going into this season because of all of the changes, and many teams will just appreciate having the chance to play.