It hurt to find out.
To some degree, it helped, too.
Monday’s announcement from the New York State Public High School Athletic Association that its remaining winter championships — basketball, bowling and ice hockey — had shifted from “postponed indefinitely” to canceled stung for area athletes and coaches, but also offered them a chance to begin moving forward following a stretch of uncertainty that lasted for longer than a week.
“There was always that glimmer of hope, but just following the news and seeing that nothing is improving in the state and in the country, you could see the writing was on the wall,” said Shenendehowa girls’ basketball head coach Joe Murphy, whose school’s basketball teams each won Class AA area titles. “It was nice having that hope, but to have the closure is nice, too, because it’s there. It’s done.”
In response to the growing spread of the novel coronavirus, the NYSPHSAA postponed its remaining championships and tournaments on March 12, a day before its bowling championships were set to start. Hockey semifinals and championships were scheduled for the March 13-14 weekend, while regional-championship basketball games were slated for March 12-13. Basketball semifinals and finals were supposed to be played last Friday through Sunday, with the girls’ competition to be held in Troy at Hudson Valley Community College and the boys’ games to be played at Cool Insuring Arena in Glens Falls.
In all, 10 area basketball teams, two hockey teams, and four bowling teams and a host of individual competitors saw their NYSPHSAA seasons cut short.
“I know they’re disappointed,” Schalmont boys’ basketball head coach Greg Loiacono said of his Sabres, this year’s Class B area champions. “But not too many teams get to finish their final game with a smile on their face, and they got to do that.
“But,” Loiacono added, “for seniors, especially, [it’s tough]. Their families have spent a lot of time. . . . It stinks that they couldn’t see it through, win or lose. You want them to be able to see it through, but there is a bigger picture.”
The nation’s — and, in particular, New York’s — growing health crisis necessitated the NYSPHSAA take action. NYSPHSAA executive director Robert Zayas said Monday that feedback from its membership was “mixed,” and that “there was certainly some interest in trying to continue to postpone” the state’s conclusion to the winter sports season. Ultimately, Zayas and NYSPHSAA officers Paul Harrica (Section X), Julie Bergman (Section IV), Russell Bartlett (Section X) and Jim Osborne (Section IX) finalized the decision to cancel the remaining winter sports championships, and the organization listed in a press release “the evolving COVID-19 public threat, CDC mass gathering recommendations, Governor Cuomo’s declaration of a state emergency, President Trump’s declaration of a national emergency, input from the 11 Sections and extended school closures” as among its reason for the decision it made.
“It just became more and more apparent that challenges were going to prevent us from being able to host an event that would honor these kids and promote these kids in the manner they deserve,” Zayas said.
The NYSPHSAA, its press release stated, is in the process of developing plans “to honor and formally recognize the students and teams who qualified to participate in these championship events.”
Beyond the winter season, the NYSPHSAA also announced Monday that April 27 will serve as a deadline for the organization to make a determination on if it is feasible to sponsor spring state championships in 2020.
“That date gives us enough time and forecasts out far enough that, by April 27, I’m anticipating we’ll have enough information to make a quality decision,” Zayas said. “I think it’s far enough out that a lot will transpire between now and then.”
As for what that NYSPHSAA decision could deliver?
“Anything’s possible at this point in time,” Zayas said.
Locally, Section II has postponed all scrimmages and games until April 19. Unable to practice together, athletes on winter teams still playing for championships and spring teams just starting out are largely working out on their own with guidance from their coaches.
Loiacono said his Schalmont players were staying ready, and felt his Sabres could have been ready to play its next game on short notice if the situation had progressed to a point where that was possible.
“They wouldn’t have skipped a beat,” Loiacono said.
Murphy said his team found out minutes before its March 12 practice that its next game, at that point, had been postponed. Murphy “tried to lay it out” for his Plainsmen that day that postponed could become canceled, and his group opted that day to spend its practice rewatching footage of its Section II Class AA championship victory against Saratoga Springs, which ended up being the team’s final game. Looking back, Murphy said he was grateful each of the area finals had been able to be played.
“If [the postponement had started] a week earlier, it probably would have been a lot harder to deal with for us,” Murphy said.
That the postponement turned into a cancellation, Zayas said, amounted to “the most difficult decision I’ve been involved with” during his professional career.
“I wish the outcome had been different,” Zayas said.