The Colorado High School Activities Association announced just after 11 p.m. on Thursday that the remainder of the state basketball tournaments would be cancelled amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
In a release sent out Thursday, CHSAA said that the University of Denver, the site of the Class 3A state tournament, told them it could not continue to host the tournament. The release also pointed to the state of emergency announced by Denver mayor Michael Hancock and the recent decisions to cancel events like other high school associations and the NCAA did this week.
“Everything we’ve done up to this point was to try and keep the experience of a state basketball tournament for our student participants and high school communities,” CHSAA Commissioner Rhonda Blanford-Green said in the release. “In the face of this unprecedented public health emergency, we are compelled to discontinue play in all tournaments.”
The decision is a truly heartbreaking one for four area schools who were in the Final Four or state championship game of their respective tournaments heading into Friday.
Two of the top boys basketball teams in the state were looking to advance to the championship game on Friday at the Denver Coliseum. The Mead Mavericks, who were the No. 1 seed in the Class 4A tournament, and the Fairview Knights, No. 2 in Class 5A, were scheduled to play on Friday in the Denver Coliseum.
News quickly spread over social media regarding the cancelations and trickled down to the teams and coaches that were still in play. Initial reactions from Mead came late last night shortly after the announcement was made by CHSAA.
“I caught wind of that tweet that was going to be coming out a couple of minutes before the release,” Mead Athletic Director Chad Eisentrager said. “After that my phone was blowing up, so at about 1:30 (a.m.) I called coach (Darin) Reese and had a conversation. We vented our frustrations about our boys not getting the opportunity to showcase their skills.”
For others, including Fairview boys basketball coach Patrick Burke, the news was discovered waking up in the morning on Friday.
“I went to bed last thinking we would get the chance to compete for a championship,” Burke said. “I woke up and that was no longer the case. I feel heartbroken for the boys.”
In girls basketball, the Holy Family Tigers defeated Green Mountain in a Final Four game at the Denver Coliseum on Thursday to punch its ticket to the championship game hours before the cancellation was announced. In Class 1A, the Shining Mountain Lions defeated Fleming with a buzzer-beater and was scheduled to play its Final Four game Friday night in Greeley.
Having state tournament games played on Thursday made the news tougher for the boys basketball teams scheduled to play on Friday, as they believed things would continue as planned for them because games were already conducted at other tournaments and venues, including the Denver Coliseum.
“The disappointing part is knowing that games already happened (Thursday),” Eisentrager said. “The tough part with this COVID-19 stuff is it seems like every 10 minutes things are changing. I understand our need to adapt to it.”
Many others expressed their frustrations on social media last night and throughout the day on Friday, talking about canceling after playing games yesterday and also trying to convince CHSAA to finish the state tournaments when sports can resume as early as April. A petition on ipetitions.com started on Friday asking CHSAA to finish the state basketball tournaments at a later date has received more than 1,500 signatures by 2 p.m. online.
Despite the abrupt endings, schools and coaches are saying they support CHSAA’s decision and looking out to the best interest of the health and safety of student-athletes competing in these tournaments.
“It’s understandable why (CHSAA) chose to do this,” Burke said. “We get it. The health and safety of our community, student-athletes and coaches is more important than a game.”
Still, for the teams still fighting for a state title, it will be hard to ask what might have been had the tournaments been able to conclude and champions were crowned this week.
“There’s an empty feeling,” Eisentrager said. “There’s no closure to the season at this point.”