The flicker of hope for having high school sports return to the area's playing fields this spring has been extinguished.
The TSSAA made the announcement Wednesday afternoon that it has canceled the spring sports season for baseball, boys' soccer, softball, tennis and track and field, as well as the remainder of the state tournaments for boys' and girls' basketball.
The announcement came shortly after Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee's news conference announcing his decision to recommend all campuses in the state remain closed through the end of the current school year due to concerns related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The TSSAA's announcement followed similar decisions made by the main state high school sports associations in both Alabama and Georgia two weeks ago.
"With the Governor's announcement of school closure for the remainder of the school year, all remaining TSSAA events for 2019-20, including all spring sports and the postponed state basketball tournaments, are canceled," TSSAA executive director Bernard Childress said in a news release. "This is an unprecedented time across our state and country, and we do not make this decision lightly. We thank all of the participants, their coaches, administrators and parents, and everyone else who has dedicated a tremendous amount of time, passion and effort to high school athletics, especially these affected events.
"To our senior participants - we thank you for everything you have done for your schools and communities and wish you the very best in your bright futures. This is difficult, but the lessons you've learned and friendships you've made through high school activities will last your lifetime.
"We look forward to the resumption of high school athletics during the 2020-21 school year and will continue work on those events at this time. The TSSAA thanks everyone involved for their patience and understanding throughout this process."
The girls' basketball state tournaments for public schools had just completed the first round of games before being postponed on March 11, with semifinals and championship games remaining to be played. The boys' state tournament - which included Class AAA's top-ranked Cleveland as the Chattanooga area's only remaining team in any classification for boys or girls - had not yet begun. The Blue Raiders, whose three seniors include Class AAA's Mr. Basketball award winner JaCobi Wood, got off to a program-best 29-0 start and end the season with a 33-1 record.
"I knew it was probably coming, but to get that phone call and email, it hit different to know it was official," Cleveland coach Reggie Tucker said. "I spoke with our guys on a Zoom meeting, and that was tough. It hurts. They didn't want to have to hear it, but they understand it. All we can do is accept it and move forward.
"It's been a special year for our team. The kids accomplished a lot and have a lot to be proud of. You can take away the state tournament from this group, but the footprint they've left here won't be forgotten. We're going to do something special for this group of guys once we're able to get back together."
Three weeks ago the TSSAA Board of Control voted unanimously to approve recommendations by Childress to postpone the basketball tournaments for public schools, rather than cancel them outright, and to push back the dates of the Spring Fling - the state championship events for baseball, boys' soccer, softball, tennis and track and field - from May 19-22 into June if necessary.
Childress had said last week that the state's prep sports governing body was willing to push the dates of the basketball state tournaments as well as the Spring Fling back even further into June if necessary in an attempt to play out those sports. However, Childress pointed out at the time that any plan would hinge on student-athletes returning to campuses, adding that prep sports is merely an extension of the school day.
However, with coronavirus concerns remaining, the recommended closure of campuses for the remainder of the school year left no workable timetable for games to be played, and Childress said that now the TSSAA will begin shifting discussions toward fall sports and the possibility of an abbreviated football season, should the spread of coronavirus remain a concern into the summer.
"I'm just sick over this," Soddy-Daisy athletic director Jared Hensley said. "I know there are more important things going on right now than playing games, but we live in a region where almost everybody has some connection to sports, so this is just another really tough blow. It's depressing.
"Obviously nobody has ever been in a position like this. I see how much time the kids and coaches put in and how hard they work just to play their games. There's nothing anybody can say that's going to make the kids or coaches feel better about this.
"You've got an entire class of kids who will be living examples of not taking anything for granted. When we do get back to playing sports, the kids who still get to play will remember this and hopefully will never take another game or day at practice for granted ever again."