There will be no raising of first-place trophies this year at high school basketball and cheerleading state tournaments.
The Alaska School Activities Association announced in a news release Saturday it was canceling the state high school basketball tournaments and state cheerleading competition because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The state basketball tournaments and the state cheerleading competition were scheduled for the Alaska Airlines Center at the University of Alaska Anchorage.
The ASAA March Madness/First National Bank Alaska Basketball State Championships was scheduled to begin with the Class 1A state tournament on Wednesday through Saturday. The 1A tournament traditionally features 16 girls and boys teams each playing in double-elimination formats.
The 2A state basketball tournament was set for Thursday through Saturday.
The state cheerleading competition was slated for March 24, and the state 3A and 4A basketball were scheduled for March 26-28.
The 2A, 3A and 4A state basketball tournaments feature eight girls and boys teams each competing in bracket formats.
ASAA’s decision for the state basketball tournaments comes three days after the Fairbanks North Star Borough School District postponed the Mid Alaska Conference and Aurora Conference basketball tournaments, which were scheduled for North Pole High School.
The Aurora tournament, which traditionally has the first and second-place teams advancing to the 3A girls and boys state tournaments, was set for Thursday through Saturday. The MAC, which has its girls and boys champions advancing to the 4A state tournament, was scheduled for Friday and Saturday.
The Lathrop Malemutes girls team had hopes of playing in the Class 4A state tournament after they would have entered the MAC tournament as the No. 1 girls seed. Lathrop would have received a bye on the tournament’s opening day and played in the title game Saturday against the winner of Friday’s semifinal between the No. 2 West Valley Wolfpack and No. 3 seed North Pole Patriots.
“If it’s good for the nation, it’s good for the kids to not be in large groups ... it’s just something that had to be done,” Dave Stewart, Lathrop girls basketball head coach, said by phone Saturday.
A recommendation by health officials worldwide to combat the coronavirus is to avoid events with large crowds.
Stewart also said the cancellation of the state tournaments was heartbreaking, but he understood the decision.
“This year, I thought we had something special going,” he said. “We had a pretty good team out there that I felt could have competed for state this year and won.
“But for the safety of everyone ... if people with a higher pay grade than me say we shouldn’t be doing this, then we’re not going to do it.”
Nenana Lynx girls head coach Colin Stone’s sentiments echoed Stewart’s.
“I’m in the exact same boat,” Stone said by phone. “I was disappointed but I understand why they had to do it ... but I’ve got seven seniors on my team.
“I thought we had a really good shot at it (state title) because I think the 2A field is really even. There’s no standout team this year; so I think it was going to be a really good tournament.”
On Friday night at Susitna Valley High School in Talkeetna, the Lynx defeated the Su Valley Rams 44-21 in the girls championship game of the Interior Conference Tournament.
Rayna Peterson scored a game-high 16 points and Ashley Agwiak had 13 for Nenana’s fifth conference-tournament title in the last six years. Kenna Grenier led Su Valley with 13 points Friday.
Both teams would have advanced to the 2A girls state tournament — Nenana as the Interior Conference’s No. 1 seed and Su Valley as the No. 2 seed.
The cancellations of the state basketball tournaments and cheerleading competition also came a day after Alaska Governor Mike Dunleavy issued a mandate to close public schools in state through March 30.
Billy Strickland, ASAA executive director, stated in a news release Saturday that “ASAA agrees with the State of Alaska’s assessment that our best course of action in dealing with the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) is to slow down the statewide spreading of the virus.”
Strickland said, “One of the ways to mitigate the spread is to not have large statewide gatherings. March Madness Alaska is possibly the largest statewide gathering each year and ASAA would not be acting responsibly if we were to host this year’s event. ASAA understands many students and adults will be severely disappointed by the need to cancel March Madness Alaska. However, when discussing the merits of educational based activity participation, concepts such as ‘teamwork’ and ‘sacrifice’ are often mentioned. This is a time when these concepts will be applied, in order to help best protect our State.
“ASAA’s stated mission is to strengthen student wellness, academic and social development by advocating equitable participation and fostering healthy competition for ALL Alaska students. #winforlife,” the statement said.
“By ‘win for life’ ASAA hopes to convey the benefits of educational based activities go with the student well beyond their last contest or event. Our State is fortunate to have dedicated coaches and advisors that help students gain these benefits both in victory and defeat. Canceling a state tournament is not something we take lightly. We recognize that for many student’s this opportunity will not come again. However, we prioritize the health of our students, coaches, school staffs, fans and elders over the want to determine this year’s champions.”