PIAA suspends playoffs for 2 weeks

The PIAA announced the immediate suspension of both the high school boys and girls basketball state playoffs as well as the PIAA Class 2A swimming and diving championships for a minimum of two weeks Thursday at noon.

The PIAA Board of Directors decided via a unanimous vote to suspend the championships after consulting with various health departments about the potential spread of coronavirus.

“The Board of Directors are committed to promoting an environment of healthy athletic competition that is consistent with current health department and the Center of Disease Control guidelines,” said Dr. Robert Lombardi, the PIAA executive director, in a statement posted on the PIAA’s website.

The PIAA’s Medicine Committee will meet this weekend for further discussion.

The announcement also included that modifications would be made to the tournaments including limiting team and spectator parties, health re-certification by authorized medical professionals and changes to gameday procedures.

The Laurel Mountain Hockey League, which is not affiliated with the PIAA, also announced that it is canceling its season. Playoffs involving local teams Altoona, Hollidaysburg and Central Cambria were set to begin Thursday.

The PIAA’s decision directly involves many area swimmers and the Bellwood-Antis, Cambria Heights, Tyrone and Bishop Guilfoyle Catholic girls basketball teams as well as the BG and Bishop Carroll Catholic boys teams, all of which have advanced into the quarterfinals of the state tournament, held every year since 1920.

“I really hope they can finish the tournament,” Cambria Heights coach Amber Fees said. “I would be devastated if they ended up canceling it. Postponing, I can take.”

For now, many of the area coaches are taking a positive outlook that the tournament will be picked up in two weeks.

“Looking at all the precautions with the NCAA and NBA, we were kind of expecting it,” Bishop Guilfoyle girls coach Kristi Kaack said. “We were hoping that it wouldn’t happen, but it’s out of our control. We’re just planning on staying focused for the next two weeks, and hopefully we’ll have to opportunity to play when we’re able to.”

The NBA suspended its season Wednesday night, and many NCAA conference tournaments were canceled Thursday.

“I wasn’t shocked,” Bellwood-Antis coach Jim Swaney said. “When the NBA suspended play, I think the writing was on the wall at that point. Now the Big Ten and SEC have canceled their tournaments. It will be interesting to see what happens in two weeks. I guess it’s just a wait and see at this point.”

Two of the teams still alive, the Cambria Heights and Tyrone girls, have never had the opportunity to play in a quarterfinal game and would have been making school history if their games were played as scheduled tonight.

“I just met with the girls, and we’re all very disappointed,” Tyrone coach Luke Rhoades said. “We understand, but we’re definitely disappointed. Hopefully it can get resolved and we can get back to finish the tournament. The girls were pretty upset.”

If the games do resume in two weeks, how coaches and players approach the break may have an impact on who ultimately advances into the semifinals.

“I’m assuming if kids are at school, we’re practicing,” Bishop Guilfoyle boys coach Chris Drenning said. “I know there’s a couple of schools that have closed. If that happens, I don’t know what the situation is. My intention is to try and use the time to prepare like preseason. If they are in school, I plan on practicing until I’m told different.”

Fees also plans on keeping her team on the court as long as possible.

“As a coach, my job right now is to make sure practices stay competitive,” Fees said. “They need to stay game-like and have intra-squad scrimmages and make it as best we can to prepare for our upcoming game.”

Other coaches weren’t sure how to approach the time off.

“I’m sitting here wondering how we keep kids sharp and this whole practice thing,” Swaney said. “These are certainly waters we have never navigated before.”

“We are going to take a little bit of time off,” Rhoades said. “We’ll look to probably get back into it a little bit next week.”

Both Swaney and Kaack said if the tournament resumes, that the teams who are mentally the strongest will likely prevail.

“Mentally will be the hardest for them,” Kaack said. “That will be our challenge as coaches to keep them engaged in practice. We have a focused group, so we don’t expect to lose a lot over the next two weeks.”

Though some kind of announcement was expected Thursday afternoon, there had been talk of outright canceling the tournament, postponing it or playing it without anyone other than immediate family and essential staff.

So, finding out that her team would not being going to Armstrong High School for a doubleheader tonight that also was set to involve Tyrone was still somewhat surprising for Fees.

“At first, I was disappointed, but I figured this was coming so I was mentally preparing for it,” Fees said. “Our administration talked to the girls, and we’re going to stay positive. We look at it as we have two weeks to get healed up from our little dings and bruises. We have two weeks to prepare for Mohawk. I’m praying and hoping that the virus stays to a minimum in Pa. and that in two weeks we can get back on the court and that our fans and supporters will be there to watch us.”

Drenning, whose team came up just two points short in the state championship game a year ago, said he’s never experienced something like this.

“It’s a different situation, that’s for sure,” Drenning said. “I’m not sure how to react. Are we going to play in two weeks for sure? I know they are going to reassess. There’s just so many variables. It’s unprecedented. I think they are taking some time to give schools and administrations time to figure out what the next moves are.”

Bishop Carroll is taking its cue from the state.

“It is out of our control,” Huskies coach Cosie Aliquo said. “We will go along with what the state says for the sake of public health.”

Meanwhile, some spring sports like high school boys tennis have already started. When contacted by the Mirror on Thursday, Hollidaysburg athletic director Homer DeLattre said, “as of now, yes, spring (sports) remain on as scheduled.”

The Golden Tiger baseball team actually scrimmaged with Central on Wednesday.

“We’ll continue to do what we have been doing,” Central baseball coach A.J. Hoenstine said. “We were fortunate to get to scrimmage Hollidaysburg yesterday. We’ve been outside seven of eight days, which is unheard of in Pennsylvania at this time. All was going well there, but there’s a lot of talk in schools about how to stay safe and do what you need to do. I’m hoping it doesn’t come to suspending any of the games, but it looks like a lot of the colleges are doing that.”

But not all of Hoenstine’s preseason plans have continued uninterrupted.

“We were to go to Maryland to scrimmage on Monday,” Hoenstine said. “But out-of-state trips have been canceled. We’re looking at hopefully scrimmaging Altoona. I’m hoping with baseball being an outdoor sport that this won’t impact any of that, but who knows? We can only control what we can control.”

The Altoona baseball team’s trip to Virginia on March 20-21 has also been canceled.


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