Virus has area teams on edge

PUNXSUTAWNEY — The fate of the PIAA basketball playoffs could be learned today, with local coaches expecting to hear if fans will be allowed to attend upcoming games, and if those games will be played at all amidst coronavirus concerns.

Connecticut already has canceled the remainder of its state basketball tournament, so that drastic step would not be an unprecedented possibility for the PIAA.

Meanwhile, Ohio’s state tournament will continue, but with limited spectators being allowed at the games, essentially just immediate family members of team participants.

Those would seem to be the two options the PIAA would consider in light of the drastic measures taken across the nation’s sports landscape in recent days to keep fans away from major events or to call them off altogether.

As of Wednesday, the PIAA had announced no decision concerning the third round of the tournament, which begins Friday.

“We’re taking it day by day because obviously this changes day by day,” PIAA Execute Director Bob Lombardi told PennLive.com. “So once we get new information, we’re going to evaluate each individual situation to the best of our abilities and with the assistance of the schools and our sites, our game managers, we’re placing games where we can hopefully have a good, safe, clean environment.”

The Mirror spoke with several coaches Wednesday whose teams are still alive in the PIAA playoffs and asked about the impact of the two likely options — no fans or no games at all.

Their thoughts on the possibility of fans not being able to attend games.

n Bishop Guilfoyle Catholic boys coach Chris Drenning: “I would be extremely disappointed for my kids if there were no fans. All these guys have worked their tails off for three years, and to have a western semifinal played in basically an empty gym, it’s going to take away from it. I don’t care whether you win or you lose, it’s going to take away from it.”

n Tyrone girls coach Luke Rhoades: “I think playing the game is important for the kids, but the whole thing about high school and college and even professional sports is the atmosphere. … Playing the game in general would be great, but playing with no fans, I don’t know how exciting that would be for the kids.”

n Bellwood-Antis girls coach Jim Swaney: “I don’t know (what the game would be like). I’ve never done it. … My message to our kids is always the same: Let’s control the things we can control. None of us can control this.”

n Bishop Guilfoyle Catholic girls coach Kristi Kaack: “Honestly, for us, we’re just gonna play, so I don’t know if that would even be a factor for the kids. I would hope not. I know they’re just excited. It would be weird, I’m sure, but we’re just gonna throw the ball up and play basketball.”

That’s if they get to play basketball.

So far, there has been no indication from the PIAA that it would cancel the rest of the tournament.

However, things have moved so quickly in recent days with regards to the coronavirus that landmark decisions have been made across sports. The most notable have been Wednesday’s bombshell announcements that the NBA is canceling games for the foreseeable future and the NCAA Tournament will not allow fans to attend games.

The local high school coaches said it would be crushing for their kids if the PIAA tournament were to be canceled.

“They would be devastated,” said Drenning, whose BG team has a chance to win a state title after losing in the finals last season. “They’ve worked all year to have another bite at the apple. We are where we were last year, and these guys really want another chance, no matter the result. They want the opportunity. They’d be devastated.”

The Bellwood-Antis girls are the two-time defending state champs and hope to make it three in a row — if they get to keep playing.

“It would stink, especially for the senior classes,” Swaney said of the possibility of the tournament being canceled. “It would be awful for the kids. They’ve played their entire career for an opportunity they have right now, every team that’s left playing,. Those seniors are never going to have another chance at this. It’s not like they can have a do-over and do it again in two months.”

The BG girls have come on strong of late and have a good chance to keep advancing deep into the tournament.

“It would be devastating,” Kaack said of not being able to play anymore games, “especially for this group. I would say devastating because they’ve worked so hard this year and especially the last few weeks. I would be devastated for them that they wouldn’t have the opportunity to continue to keep playing.”

The Tyrone girls had not won a state playoff game since 1998, before winning two in this tournament. Rhoades just wants his team to continue to have an opportunity to play.

“We’ve worked a long time for this,” Rhoades said. “We understand everybody’s safety is most important. But we know the time and effort we put into this. It would be disappointing (not to get to play).”

Bishop Guilfoyle player Will Helton said all he and his teammates can do is stay focused on playing their next game.

“I’ll be very angry (if the tournament is canceled), but we’re just going to prepare for the next game,” Helton said.

If the games continue, the PIAA still needs sites to play at. Not all schools around the state want to host games because of coronavirus concerns, but Hollidaysburg athletic director Homer DeLattre said his school would still serve as a host if asked.

“I don’t think we would have a problem hosting anyone,” DeLattre said, “as long as the PIAA thought it was OK and safe. I would trust their judgment on that.”

Michael Boytim contributed to this story.


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