MIDDLETOWN, Conn. (WTNH) — A holiday tradition is back on this week, after taking last year off.

While players could be relaxing on the couch during Christmas break, instead they are hitting the hardwood for the eighth annual Nutmeg Holiday Basketball Festival and making up for the fact that they couldn’t play last year.

The Nutmeg Games involves travel teams with kids in 4th to 8th grade who come from all over Connecticut, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire.

“It’s just a great competition for kids right after the Christmas break, and it provides them with an opportunity to get out and play a little bit with teams they don’t normally see in their conference,” Patrick Fisher, the executive director of Connecticut Sports Management Group and the event organizer said.

Last year, however, this tournament had to be called off.

“It was frustrating because my girls had to sit for two months, I think it was,” Ernestine Faienza said. “There was a pause. We couldn’t re-start basketball until I think it was Jan. 19.”

For her New Britain team, this tournament is an important chance to hone skills against players from all over. Without it last year, she saw a difference.

“The passion was still there, which was great, but they definitely were out of shape and rusty when we started back up,” Faienza said.

While they can play again, worries over the fast-spreading omicron variant mean everyone on and off the court has to wear a mask. It’s not ideal for players.

“Yes, it makes a big difference. It’s harder to breathe when I play,” Jaxieo Rivera, a 14-year-old on the Southington team said.

The masks are something the athletes are willing to put up with to do what they love.

“I gain a lot of confidence, in myself and for everything else I do other than basketball, and to work together as a team,” Rivera said. “Even if it’s not basketball, even if I’m doing a school project or something, I learn how to work like a team.”

This is exactly why it is so important to keep these athletes playing, as long as they can do it safely. This particular tournament started Monday and will wrap up Wednesday