By JESSE SMITHEY
The TSSAA Board of Control will convene, via a conference call, at 3 p.m. Eastern on Tuesday to discuss a variety of topics stemming from the effects of COVID-19.
The main discussion is likely to be centered around the fate of the suspended Division I girls’ basketball state tournament from this week and the suspended Division I boys’ basketball tournament next week. Both take place at the Murphy Center on campus at Middle Tennessee State.
And if the board follows the precedent set by some of its big brothers, like the NCAA, then those tournaments may never resume or commence.
The TSSAA halted, midway through the event, the Division I girls basketball tournament following the last batch of quarterfinal games on Thursday. The original plan was to have limited attendance to select members of the program’s participating and family members on Friday and Saturday.
But the TSSAA went ahead and sent out a release Thursday evening announcing the suspension of the girls tournament and boys tournament that follows it.
“Whether we will be able to reschedule these events will depend on the length of the suspension and the availability of facilities,” the TSSAA release said. “We intended to conduct the tournaments with restricted attendance as we announced earlier. However, today (Thursday) has seen the suspension or cancellation of championship events by the NCAA and multiple collegiate conferences including the SEC Tournament that was being played nearby; the suspension of regular season play in the NBA and the NHL; the closure of university campuses and of several Tennessee public school systems; and the suspension or cancellation of high school championships in multiple other states.”
Fulton athletics director and basketball coach Jody Wright, who serves on the TSSAA Board of Control, said the basketball tournaments will “be the big discussion.”
“I have not heard anything. I have not talked to anybody on the board,” Wright said Friday morning about possible plans for the basketball tournament.
Nevertheless, the indefinite nature of the suspension has programs like the Oneida boys’ basketball team doubting that it’ll get to play in its Class A state tournament. The Indians made history this season, securing the program’s first state tournament berth since 1998.
Head coach Jacob King is finding it hard to keep his players’ optimism and focus levels up. That likely goes even more so for a program like Sullivan South, which was to make its first tournament appearance ever in next week’s Class AA boys state tournament.
Maryville (Class AAA), Oak Ridge (Class AAA) and Greeneville (Class AA) were area teams to join Oneida in the boys state tournament fields.
“I talked to Coach Eldridge at Maryville, and I’ve talked with my team this morning and told them what’s going on,” said King. “I told them the possibility that there’s a chance we may play.
“I told them we should know more by Monday. I’m taking it day by day right now until they give us a definite answer. But it’s hard for me to tell kids we’re going to practice for something that may not happen.”
Added King: “When I talked to the kids this morning, it hurt me. They just put their heads down. I told them, ‘You’ve put all this hard work in and it if we don’t get to play, it was for nothing.’ I know we had a good season. But our goal was to get down there the whole time. And they’re devastated. I’m not saying I’m not taking this thing serious. These kids worked hard and it really needs to be settled on the floor.”
Meanwhile, question marks loom over Tennessee’s high school spring sports season, which began Monday, March 9. The TSSAA can’t control which schools play and which schools don’t during the spring sports regular season.
Local school boards in respective school districts determine if their teams play or not during the regular season. For now, the TSSAA Spring Fling is still scheduled for May 19-22 in Murfreesboro.
Knox County denied out-of-state travel for spring sports teams, which means programs like Class AAA defending champion Farragut baseball can’t play in its tournament in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., next week.
Powell softball, which was to play next week in a tournament in Gulf Shores, Ala., for the fourth consecutive season, will not be able to participate.
But then on Friday afternoon, Knox County Schools announced that its schools won’t participate in spring sports until its spring break concludes. Students are expected back from spring break March 23.
All baseball activities are cancelled until March 23. We will keep you updated as changes occur.
— Farragut Baseball (@AdmiralGameday) March 13, 2020
Gibbs softball, which has won 10 state titles in program history, was on its way to Hendersonville, Tenn., on Friday morning to play in a tournament that, at one time, had 50 teams. It had 20 as of Friday.
Knox County Schools allowed it to play the two games it had scheduled for Friday, but the Gibbs softball team must return Friday night.
“I guess it was the end of last week or beginning of this week, we were told to expect the worse — them shutting us down,” said Gibbs coach Carol Mitchell. “Last night, we were playing Carter, and we were like, ‘This might be the last game we play for two or three weeks … maybe the whole season.’
“I don’t know. It’s crazy. I’ve never seen anything like this before.”