Preps feel the pain of pros
Coronavirus putting a damper on high school tourneys across country
HARTFORD, Wis. — There were no pep bands, no cheerleaders and only about 200 fans as the high school rivals faced off in a playoff game that might have drawn close to 2,000 in just about any other circumstance.
Instead, it was a small crowd that watched Brookfield Central and Brookfield East stage a doubleovertime thriller Thursday night, not all that long after the NCAA canceled its beloved March Madness tournaments and professional leagues put their seasons on hold to combat the spread of the coronavirus.
The two high school teams in southeastern Wisconsin simply treasured the opportunity to play at all.
“Every game we play from here on out, it could be our last game,” Brookfield Central’s David Joplin said after his 31-point effort in the 76-66 victory.
As it turned out, that’s exactly what it was. Hours after the game, the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association canceled the rest of its high school basketball tournament, becoming the latest state to scrap a beloved rite of March for hundreds of communities across the country.
At least 33 states had canceled or postponed their basketball tournaments by late Friday night, including big states like Texas, New York and Ohio. The California Interscholastic Federation called off play the day before San Domenico of San Anselmo was scheduled to play for a championship.
“We understand the situation, but we’re just devastated,” San Domenico coach Mike Fulton said. “I thought we’d at least play with nobody in the stands. I’ve got guys crying, guys upset.”
Instead of preparing his undefeated team for the state tournament, Ashland (Kentucky) Paul Blazer coach Jason Mays spent Thursday trying to give his players a lesson in perspective.
“I said there are victims due to this virus,” Mays said. “There’s families that have lost loved ones and there’s people that are losing revenue and job opportunities because of all these cancellations and suspensions of athletic events all across the country. There’s people who have real-world problems because of this.”
About a dozen states, including Florida, had completed their state tournaments before this week. The handful of states that didn’t halt play were restricting the number of fans.