TSSAA still believes state tournaments can be played if coronavirus subsides

Staff file photo by Troy Stolt / Cleveland boys' basketball coach Reggie Tucker said he has not been overly concerned with whether the state tournament will be held because the decision is out of the Blue Raiders' hands and there are bigger concerns than sports with the coronavirus pandemic going on.
Staff file photo by Troy Stolt / Cleveland boys' basketball coach Reggie Tucker said he has not been overly concerned with whether the state tournament will be held because the decision is out of the Blue Raiders' hands and there are bigger concerns than sports with the coronavirus pandemic going on.

Even after Gov. Bill Lee's call to extend school closures in Tennessee through April 24 due to the coronavirus pandemic, the TSSAA is holding out hope its state tournaments for girls' and boys' basketball as well as the spring sports season can still be played.

TSSAA executive director Bernard Childress said Tuesday's announcement from the governor's office will not affect the plan for playing prep sports.

Childress urged all member schools - public and private - to continue adhering to the governor's recommendation in the interest of the health and safety of athletes, coaches, officials and spectators.

"This suspension should include games, scrimmages, practices and organized workouts or conditioning," Childress said in a released statement. "We are continually monitoring developments related to this public health concern. It is still the hope and goal that we will be able to resume the girls' state basketball tournament and hold the boys' state basketball tournament.

"It is also the goal that our member schools will be able to resume their spring sports seasons, although it will be with a limited time frame and schedule, culminating with the postseason and ultimately Spring Fling.

"The resumption of the state basketball tournaments and conducting the postseason for spring sports are dependent on numerous factors including time and facilities. We will continue to explore options that will allow both to occur and will provide updates to member schools as the situation develops."

One week ago the TSSAA's Board of Control voted unanimously to approve the recommendation by Childress to continue the postponement of the state basketball tournaments rather than cancel outright, leaving open the option of playing those games if the health concern subsides.

The board also approved a recommendation to hold the Spring Fling - the state championship tournaments for baseball, soccer, softball, tennis and track and field - as late as early June if necessary. The original dates for the Spring Fling were May 19-22, with the Olympic-style event held in Murfreesboro.

"We need our student-athletes to know we're going to do everything we can to try and save their season," Childress said after last week's vote.

photo Staff photo by Troy Stolt / Cleveland's Kley McGowan heads downcourt on a fast break during a game against visiting Oak Ridge on Feb. 11.

The girls' basketball state tournament was suspended after the quarterfinal round, with two days of games remaining to be played. Childress said the basketball tournaments could be held over a six-day span, with the girls completing their tournament on a Monday and Tuesday and the boys' tournament following on Wednesday through Saturday.

Childress said Middle Tennessee State University - the host site of the basketball tournaments - is willing to work with the state athletics association to keep the games on its campus at the Murphy Center.

Cleveland's boys are the only Chattanooga-area basketball team remaining in contention in either of the state tournaments. The Blue Raiders have already set a school record with a 33-1 overall record and have been ranked No. 1 in Class AAA throughout the season.

"To be honest, I haven't given much thought to whether we'll get to play because that's out of our hands," Blue Raiders first-year head coach Reggie Tucker said. "There are so many things going on right now that are more important than the game.

"I appreciate the effort by the TSSAA. If they give us the go-ahead and tell us how much time we have to prepare, then we'll get back in the gym and work to prepare and be ready. If they do have to cancel it, it'll be very disappointing, but that's out of our control."

The TSSAA basketball state tournaments for private schools were completed before the wave of sports cancellations and postponements began.

photo Staff photo by Robin Rudd/ Baylor softball coach Kelli Smith congratulates Acelynn Sellers after she hit an RBI triple during a state semifinal against GPS last May at McKnight Park in Murfreesboro. Smith said the Lady Red Raiders are doing their best to keep in playing shape on their own with team practices not allowed right now as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Spring sports were in the first week of competition when schools began to close due to health concerns as the virus began to spread. There is no TSSAA rule that says a regular season has to be played in order for teams to advance to the postseason. The Spring Fling could still happen so long as there is enough time to hold district and region tournaments, which produce state qualifiers.

"I sent the TSSAA notification to our players as soon as I got the notification," said Baylor softball coach Kelli Smith, whose team has won the past five Division II-AA state titles and returned six starters for what was expected to be another strong season. "I wanted to give our kids some hope and good news because it seemed like every day there were sports being canceled elsewhere.

"I check in on the girls about every day, and they're all individually doing their part to stay in shape and to be ready if we get to play our season. They're hitting and pitching at home, and I think if we get the word that its safe to be back on the field, all the kids are going to be so excited and eager that teams will get ready really quickly."

Contact Stephen Hargis at shargis@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6293. Follow him on Twitter @StephenHargis.

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