For the first time since the CIF began to crown boys and girls basketball state champions in 1981, the final event of the state’s season is cancelled as a result of the worldwide coronavirus crisis. The CIF made the announcement in a Thursday morning media release. There will be no state champions and only regional champions this year. We have added comments from some coaches and have a another worrisome situation that California high school spring sports, which for some teams has only just begun, may be cut way short as well.
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As late as Wednesday early in the afternoon, it still seemed like it was possible the the CIF would be able to get through its 2020 state championships for the current boys and girls basketball season before cases of the ongoing coronavirus outbreak really got going in California.
The championship event, however, scheduled to be conducted in six divisions with 12 games on Friday (March 13) and Saturday (March 14) at Sacramento’s Golden 1 Center, has had to be cancelled. According to a press announcement by the CIF state office on Thursday morning, all games won’t be held and no state championships will be rewarded.
As Wednesday began, and the CIF was moving an already rescheduled Northern California Open Division boys final between Sheldon of Sacramento and Bishop O’Dowd of Oakland from Laney College to Cosumnes River College, the plan was still to host the state title event at the Golden 1 Center. Now, even that rescheduled contest for Thursday between the Huskies and Dragons won’t be held.
As the day wore on, though, the NCAA announced that all of its men’s and women’s tournament games would be played without fans, and then there was a major development in the NBA. A player for the Utah Jazz, reportedly Rudy Gobert, tested positive for coronavirus, and then it was learned than an NBA referee who was getting ready to work at a Sacramento Kings vs. New Orleans Pelicans game at the Golden 1 Center also had worked at a Jazz game two nights earlier. The Pelicans’ players weren’t interested in playing the game and in the midst of all of that the NBA itself suspended its season. It appeared as though once the Golden 1 Center became a focus of the coronavirus situation, the CIF was put in a situation of doing nothing less than cancellation.
“This decision was made after careful deliberation and in the primary interest of protecting the health and safety of our member schools, fans, and most importantly, our student-athletes,” said CIF Exec
utive Director Ron Nocetti in the Thursday release. “While we understand this decision is disappointing, we strongly believe that the opportunity to compete in this event does not outweigh our obligation to place the health and safety of our member schools and school communities above all else.”
This is not the first time that the CIF has had to cancel a state championship event, but it’s the first time since World War II. The only CIF state finals in those days was the CIF state track meet and it was not held because of the war for 1942 through 1945. The worldwide flu epidemic in the late 1910s also caused the CIF not to conduct regional football championships in 1918 as well as the 1919 state championships in basketball. Those early years of the CIF state basketball championships began in 1916 and were halted in 1928.
There also was great disruption to the 2018 CIF state football championships due to an outside force, but it was due to the natural disaster in Northern California known as the Camp Fire and the immense amount of smoke it generated that stayed locked near the ground for several weeks. In that case, the CIF moved its state football finals back one week, but no championship games were cancelled.
“We want to recognize the hard work and commitment our student-athletes have made to reach the State Basketball Championships,” Nocetti added. “The impact of COVID-19 created many unexpected challenges during this year’s tournament season, and we want to thank everyone involved for their flexibility, patience, and commitment in providing our student-athletes a great experience despite this unique situation.”
Refunds for those who already have bought tickets to the games in Sacramento will be available at the original point of purchase. Online tickets obtained through ticketmaster.com will be processed automatically.
By the middle of Thursday, virtually the entire sportsworld had been shut down in an attempt to slow the spread of illness. This included the NCAA cancellations of March Madness (both men’s and women’s), Major League Baseball and the National Hockey League. It also is anticipated that the NBA suspension will last at least 30 days but may be longer.
If there was one team at the epicenter of the state’s high schools and the coronavirus over the last week it would have to be the Sheldon High of Sacramento boys basketball team. The Huskies, who were seeking their third straight CIF NorCal Open Division title and were No. 3 in the state entering this week, were told last Saturday they were out of the NorCal playoffs due to a school district request. The next day, head coach Joey Rollings’ team was put back into the NorCal bracket and was able to play its regional semifinal game on Tuesday of this week at Dublin (instead of as its own home game). That set up the team to play its regional title game on Thursday of this week vs. Bishop O’Dowd of Oakland, but that game was cancelled along with the rest of the state finals.
“Wow, it’s been an emotional roller coaster ride this playoffs,” Rollings told Ronnie Flores of Cal-Hi Sports. “The resilience, hardworking, and never quit attitude my guys showed all year made this team one of my favorite teams to coach.”
“The way my parents, players, coaches and fans fought for us to get back into the tournament after we were dropped, and the support they gave our team at games was amazing. I feel sad for the boys not being able to continue but I totally get it and I am sure they do too.”
Bishop O’Dowd boys head coach Lou Richie also responded to a text from Flores.
“As much as we would love to compete against two of the best teams in the country (Sheldon and Sierra Canyon), we understand and support the CIF decision to value health over basketball,” Richie said. “The goal, in this game called life, is that we all live to be winners. Thank you to all the media that supported all of our efforts along the way.”
Both of the two head coaches who were supposed to play each other in the NorCal regional final on Thursday have reportedly sent congratulatory messages to each other about the seasons their teams enjoyed.
Two girls coaches responding to texts from Harold Abend of Cal-Hi Sports echoed what Rollings’ said.
“It’s very disappointing for all of us, the players, their families and the coaching staff, to not play in the Open state championship game, but cancelling the state championship games is the most responsible and appropriate course of action,” said Archbishop Mitty of San Jose head coach Sue Phillips, whose team was scheduled to play La Jolla Country Day for the Open Division state title on Saturday. “God bless and prayers for healthier days ahead.”
Another of our former State Coaches of the Year, Malik McCord of Oakland Bishop O’Dowd, said it felt like a hammer coming down on his team, which was scheduled to play Rosary of Fullerton in the D1 state final on Friday.
“I’m still with them now and they are taking it hard,” he said. “We did not talk about this as a possibility with the girls. Our focus was on the game. I was up until 12:30 last night watching film and prepping for practice today.”
SPRING SPORTS UPDATES
As the day wore on and plans were made to start the process of selecting all of the various postseason honors in basketball, which still can be done because a great majority of the games this season were played, it began to come out that many spring sports teams also will be sidelined at California high schools for an extended period of time.
The San Francisco Unified School District is shutting down completely for several weeks. And Clovis Unified issued a release stating that its sports activities would be stopped at least until April 13. At least two CIF section commissioners, Rob Wigod in the Southern Section and Pat Cruickshank of the North Coast, said there will be a statewide meeting of the section commissioners next Tuesday in Sacramento about the spring sports seasons.
At this point, it’s a school district by school district or city by city choice about high school spring sports.
All of our Cal-Hi Sports all-state teams, final state rankings and more for boys and girls basketball will of course be able to be made and the athletes properly recognized. For baseball and softball, however, we are nowhere close to having enough of a sample size to issue final team rankings or all-state teams for this season.