QUICKSBURG — Annika and Eli Dellinger are a little easier to recognize on the basketball courts this season.

The Stonewall Jackson sisters are wearing masks even while playing in the games. The Virginia High School League is not requiring athletes to wear masks while they are physically playing or practicing, but every athlete has to wear them when they are on the bench or not physically in the game.

Annika, a sophomore, and Eli, a senior, said there were many different reasons they chose to do it, but mostly they just felt like it was the right thing for them to do. Eli Dellinger said that she works at a doctor’s office and didn’t want to potentially bring COVID to her workplace.

Annika Dellinger said that it hasn’t been an issue for them.

“I feel like it’s not that much different for me,” Annika Dellinger said. “I don’t really feel like it inhibits my breathing much, and if it were inhibiting my breathing a little it’s like having coronavirus would inhibit it more.”

On Dec. 11, the VHSL announced it was requiring all athletes to wear masks at all times during winter sports competitions and practices, except for wrestling, swimming competition cheer and gymnastics. Three days later, the VHSL announced that athletes weren’t required to wear them while actively participating in games and practices.

Eli Dellinger said they started wearing them when the VHSL announced that they had to and even when the VHSL changed position they decided to keep going with it.

“In the beginning, we both kind of wanted to wear the masks,” Eli Dellinger said. “But we were like. ‘oh I don’t know if we should. Everybody’s going to be like what are they doing?’ But the fact that we have each other makes it a lot easier.”

Both sisters said that it’s a lot better doing it together.

“I think it would be pretty hard if one of us decided we weren’t going to do it,” Eli Dellinger said. “So the fact that we have both of us doing it makes it a lot easier. It just makes us not look like the ugly duckling.”

They said they haven’t encouraged any of their teammates to join them and they understand that it’s a personal decision for everyone. They said that their teammates have been supportive.

Sophomore Mya Councill and senior Kylene Franklin said they think it’s great that Eli and Annika Dellinger are doing this.

“Honestly, I think that they’re really strong for that,” Councill said. “I don’t think I could personally do that for myself, and I feel like a lot of the other girls couldn’t do it either. I feel like they’re just taking their part in this. And I think props to them because they’re keeping us safe and theirselves safe and they’re keeping us good so we can keep our season going with corona.”

“I know they’re being precautious, and that’s totally fine with me,” Franklin said. “I have no problem with it. I know they’re being safe. I personally can’t do it because (of asthma). But honestly, that shows how they can work hard even with the restrictions of air. That shows how hard they can still work even if they’re gassed up.”

Annika and Eli Dellinger said it was hard at first, especially at practice, but they got used to it.

“It’s one of those things you get used to like a new pair of shoes,” Annika Dellinger said. “You’ll get blisters the first time, but after that you’re good to go.”

Annika Dellinger said she is using sports masks, which doesn’t stick to her face as much. Eli Dellinger said she is wearing cloth masks, which do stick to her face a little more but she’s gotten used to it.

Both players have made big impacts on the team, which is off to a 3-2 start this season and said the masks haven’t affected their play at all.

Stonewall Jackson girls basketball coach Jeff Burner said he is fine with the decision the Dellinger sisters have made.

“That’s a decision that they made and I’m comfortable with it,” Burner said. “I wear mine all the time, too. I’m obviously not playing. Although, if anybody knows me knows that I sweat like a hog during games – so it’s not easy. They’re comfortable with it and I’m comfortable with it. I feel like it’s everybody’s preference during exercise. Now, I don’t think it should be outside of that – it’s like we need to be safe. But here at school, we have to be smart. They wear theirs all the time and I’m cool with that. I think that’s a great thing.”

The sisters said that they know it’s a difficult decision to make and if others on their team or on other teams are considering wearing one, maybe seeing them wear it will help.

“I know if I didn’t have her I’d feel a lot more nervous about it,” Annika Dellinger said. “So if other people can see us doing it maybe they’ll feel better about doing it themselves.”

– Contact Tommy Keeler Jr. at tkeeler@nvdaily.com