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PIAA decision tough for everyone

Commentary

Throughout my 15 years working in the sports department at the Altoona Mirror, I have had to conduct some very emotionally tough interviews.

Talking with Juniata Valley girls basketball coach Rachelle Hopsicker and her team after the Lady Hornets led Jenkintown by nine points in the 2018 PIAA Class 1A championship game with less than four minutes to play before losing in overtime stands out.

Another that comes to mind is Portage girls basketball coach Lance Hudak, who turned his back during the interview to hide his tears after the Lady Mustangs were stunned by Bishop Guilfoyle and a Macy Adams nearly half-court 3-pointer at the buzzer in the District 6 final in 2014 when Portage was trying to win its first-ever district title.

But the calls I had to make Thursday were worse.

I couldn’t see BG boys basketball coach Chris Drenning or Bellwood-Antis star senior Alli Campbell as I spoke with them, but as their voices cracked and they struggled to keep their composure, I began to feel myself start to tear up.

In this business, cheering and bias for any team — even when they are playing a team from out of your coverage area — is frowned upon. I take that very seriously and always have, but seeing six of our area basketball teams not even get the opportunity to continue successful playoff runs is something I believe is fair to be justifiably sad about.

When the PIAA made the decision to cancel the winter sports’ postseason and the entire spring schedule on Thursday, it wasn’t a shock.

It was difficult to see how any season could start in May and end a month later. It was also hard to imagine basketball teams or swimmers competing at the highest level after weeks of not even being allowed in a gym or pool.

Still, for the winter sports, the fact the PIAA had not canceled them for so long after so many adjustments to state and national policies left a sliver of hope in some people that the postseason could be completed, even if it was in an empty arena.

I called Drenning and Campbell just minutes after the announcement was made. I heard the voices of two people who had been holding onto that sliver as tightly as possible over the past month.

The world is in crisis. The decisions that are being made need to be made, and they will save people’s lives. No sporting event is more important than even one life.

But if you are one of the people who can’t see why this means so much to these teams, remember that while no one lost their life because these games weren’t played, kids and coaches who have worked their whole lives toward the goal of winning a state title had their lives changed forever.

Starting next week, the Mirror will take a look at the six remaining PIAA quarterfinalist basketball teams — the BG boys and girls, Bishop Carroll boys and Bellwood-Antis, Tyrone and Cambria Heights girls with a feature story each day to celebrate their seasons.

They deserve at least that.

Michael Boytim can be reached at mboytim@altoonamirror.com or 946-7521

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