The Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association has followed the lead of professional and college sports organizations, and announced on Thursday it had cancelled this weekend’s state finals in basketball and hockey in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak.
According to an email sent out to participating schools, "The MIAA Board of Directors [met] via conference call to discuss the impact on the remaining 2020 State Final games. … The MIAA [Board] voted unanimously to cancel the weekend state final games.”
State finals in boys’ and girls’ basketball were scheduled to be played Saturday in Worcester, including at the DCU Center, with state finals in boys’ and girls’ hockey Sunday at TD Garden.
“Obviously, we feel for all the student-athletes [impacted],” said MIAA president Jeff Granatino, also the superintendent of Marshfield schools. “But each hour, you see the professional leagues, and the colleges [suspending play], this is a bigger issue than any of us. How are we any different?"
The MIAA noted teams scheduled to play in the state finals would be declared co-champions.
“Being a co-champion, I’m really not a fan of, personally I feel like my kids worked their tail off to get to the state championship game and not being able to play, it hurts," said Lynn English boys’ basketball coach Antonio Anderson, whose team was scheduled to face Springfield Central in the Division 1 final.
“It’s just too bad that my team and all the other teams won’t get the opportunity to be a true champion in the state."
Two state semifinal basketball games still were scheduled to be played Thursday night at Worcester State with no fans in attendance — Sutton defeated Sabis, 67-55, in a Division 3 boys’ semifinal, and Maynard defeated Monson, 57-41, in a Division 4 girls’ semifinal.
“At the end of the day, if they’re going to play games tonight, we don’t get why we can’t play Saturday,” Anderson said. "It is what it is, I guess."
Arlington boys’ hockey coach John Messuri said it was difficult telling his players they would not be facing Pope Francis in Sunday’s Super 8 championship game.
“We were in the middle of practice,” Messuri said. “A lot of crying, probably for 40 minutes. It was very emotional, very sad, obviously being that close to outright winning the thing.”
Andover girls’ basketball senior Brooke Hardock said she will miss the chemistry of this year’s team, which was set to play Franklin in the Division 1 final.
“We definitely weren’t ready for the season to end even though it was only two more days,” Hardock said. “We were ready to fight it out. Definitely emotional, especially being my last high school sport.”
Hardock and fellow senior Shea Krikorian were members of the Golden Warriors team that reached the state semifinals in 2017. This year’s team made a surprise run as the No. 7 seed out of Division 1 North.
“Freshman year we were expected to do as well as we did and go as far as we did,” Krikorian said. “This year was special because no one expected it. That’s a good legacy to leave behind. You don’t need to have the most raw talent, but the intangibles can take you far.”
Messuri, whose son Anthony is a senior on the Spy Ponders and also won a Super 8 championship as a freshman in 2017, said he is heartbroken for all of the seniors who won’t get to play one final time.
“It’s a really crappy way for a senior [year] to end,” he said. “On top of that, there’s that unique bond I have with this senior class, who I’ve been coaching since they were 7. We were right there. They’re my sons too. I’ve coached them three times a week for maybe 10 years.”
The Burke boys’ basketball was scheduled to play the Sutton/Sabis winner in Saturday’s Division 3 final, but instead has its season end a game early along with all of the other finalists.
“I guess it’s always big to win your last game,” Burke coach Sean Ryan said. “Unfortunately, I think my kids will be disappointed. I think they were looking forward to one more big game.
“Obviously there's a bigger picture involved that we have to worry about, a lot of great teams that ended up champions. Our kids in the city, with so many great programs, want to be recognized as one of those teams.”
For the Belmont boys’ hockey team, a historic opportunity to play for a state title was lost after the Marauders won their first Division 1 North championship Monday night. Belmont was scheduled to face Walpole for the Division 1 state title Sunday at TD Garden.
“[We’re still] in the locker room and as you can imagine the room is crushed,” Belmont coach Fred Allard said. “This is a group of unselfish kids that played for each other each day and deserve more. The dust will settle and they will realize their accomplishments, but right now it’s just an empty feeling.”
The news hit equally as hard for the Canton girls’ hockey team, which was preparing to face Wellesley in Sunday’s Division 2 state final, its third appearance at the Garden in four seasons.
“We’re going to practice, we’re prepping, we had just watched video on Wellesley, so we were feeling good,” Canton coach Dennis Aldrich said. “We were really feeling we had a good game plan, we were ready to go, and then the rug was pulled out from underneath them. Next thing you know, they’re leaving their jerseys and stuff in their lockers and taking their equipment out.”
Before the official announcement was made around 4:45 p.m. Thursday, coaches still were optimistic the games could be played in some fashion.
“We’re preparing right now to play on Saturday, but certainly understand and respect the seriousness of the situation," said Abington boys’ basketball coach and athletic director Peter Serino. “We’re waiting for their guidance as to where we should go from here.”
Serino noted his school already had been taking precautions and preventative measures such as sanitizing basketballs and other equipment, while continuing to practice for its Division 4 state final against Hopedale.
“It’s certainly a very unique situation that’s unprecedented across the board," Serino said. “High school sports is one thing, but it seems like it’s much bigger than that.”
St. Mary’s girls’ basketball coach and athletic director Jeff Newhall, whose team was scheduled to face Hoosac Valley in the Division 3 final, said he didn’t think it was an easy decision for the MIAA, but that he didn’t see any other option.
“At the end of the day we won 26 games, played at the Garden and are declared state champions by the MIAA,” Newhall said. “While it’s disappointing that we couldn’t finish it on the court I think proper decisions were made with the general public’s health as the top priority.“
While Eastern Mass. basketball teams were able to play on the Garden parquet earlier this week, the state finalists in boys’ and girls’ hockey lost out on their chance on Causeway Street.
“I really wish they could reward the kids by giving them Garden games,” said Messuri, who long has advocated for earlier rounds of the Super 8 to be played there, as they were in the early years of the tournament. “That's the only beef I have with the MIAA. Otherwise I don't blame them. They had no choice.”
Aldrich said he also felt for the Board of Directors to have to make such a tough decision.
“They're damned if they do and damned if they don't. You have to err on the side of caution with anything like that,” he said. “There's going to be collateral damage, so to speak, people are going to be upset no matter what you do, but they absolutely did the right thing, in my opinion. It was well thought out and they didn't jump to any conclusions and it's all about safety, but it still stings quite a bit."
The Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Council on Tuesday cancelled its state tournaments, the first state to do so. State tournaments still were being played in Rhode Island and New Hampshire as of Thursday, with limited fan attendance in both states.
After much discussion, the MIAA Board also voted to push back the start of the spring sports season to March 30. Practices were scheduled to start on Monday. The situation will be revisited prior to March 30.
Many other districts throughout Eastern Mass. had announced Thursday that schools would be closed for two weeks or more.
The Massachusetts School Administrators’ Association announced in a tweet that Sunday’s state cheerleading tournament had been cancelled “[after] exploring a number of alternative plans due to Worcester State [being] unable to host our tournament.”
In addition, the state athletic directors’ association (MSSADA) has cancelled their annual conference, scheduled for March 24-29, in Hyannis
Late Wednesday, the National Scholastic Athletic Foundation canceled the New Balance Nationals Indoor — a desired destination for area high school track athletes — scheduled for Friday thru Sunday at Armory in New York City.
“Due to the Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak and out of concern for the safety of all athletes, coaches and families, we’ve decided it’s in the best interest of all parties to cancel the meet,” meet director Jim Spier said in a statement. “It’s the hardest decision we’ve ever had to make.”
In addition, the state track coaches (MSTCA) have cancelled the 46th New England Track & Field Clinic, scheduled for March 20-21 in Marlborough.
Craig Larson of the Globe staff and correspondents Nate Weitzer and Greg Levinsky contributed to this report.