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Wednesday, Marc 11, 2020: Coronavirus hitting N.Y. school sports hard

   Leading off today: With apologies to my friend and former newspaper colleague Scott Pitoniak (more about that below), we're about to play some of the best games you never saw.

   The coronavirus outbreak story continued to change almost by the minute on Wednesday at multiple levels. Hours after it was announced that the NCAA Tournament would be held in front of crowds limited to little more than a few family members, the Atlantic Coast Conference announced Wednesday night that it would bar fans from attending the conference basketball tournament beginning Thursday.

   In the pro ranks, the Golden State Warriors were among the teams told by local authorities to not allow fans at home games andhours later the NBA suspended its season. The Seattle Mariners were ordered to make new arrangements for early-season home games and multiple other franchises were reading plans to play in empty arenas.

   Closer to home, the New York State Public High School Athletic Association announced that fans would not be able to attend its hockey final fours this weekend in Buffalo. That decision came in the aftermath of Tuesday's revisions to the postseason basketball schedule.

   The NYSPHSAA announcement said the decision about the weekend's six hockey games followed a recommendation from the Erie County Department of Health.

   "This is certainly not the type of championship atmosphere our association strives to provide our student-athletes and their communities," Robert Zayas, executive director of the NYSPHSAA, said in a statement. "This decision is being made at the recommendation of the Erie County Department of Health out of an abundance of caution as we address the coronavirus."

   "I know it's something the world is dealing with right now, but we're dealing with a hockey game and we are just thankful they didn't cancel the whole thing and we are still playing," Webster Thomas coach David Evans said.

   The games will be streamed live by the NFHS Network.

   Wednesday's update from the NYSPHSAA said the state bowling championships at AMF Strike 'N Spare in Syracuse will go on as scheduled. The NYSPHSAA said it has received no concerns or communications from the State or local health departments pertaining to Onondaga County.

   NYSPHSAA basketball: Wednesday did not bring about any major changes to the state tournament, although the first-round girls game between Ursuline and Monroe-Woodbury scheduled for Wednesday was postponed pending guidance from state and local health agencies.

   Other early-round locations have been revised because of facility availability. The changes included six games being played Wednesday in empty high school gyms except for school administrators and committee members:

  • Class AA boys: Horace Greeley at Newburgh Free Academy
  • Class B boys: Marlboro at Putnam Valley
  • Class C boys: Pine Plains at Alexander Hamilton
  • Class AA girls: Ursuline at Monroe-Woodbury
  • Class B girls: Hastings at Marlboro
  • Class C girls: Millbrook at Haldane

   "We've been advised to close the doors and we will," Section 9 Executive Director Greg Ransom said. "Only essential personnel are going to be let in. Right now, we've been advised to keep as few people in the gym as possible.”"

   The six games were originally scheduled for SUNY New Paltz and Mount Saint Mary College, but those schools bowed out.

   The last time that a Section 9 team played a state-tournament game in an empty gym was March 6, 2005, when Burke Catholic and Kennedy Catholic resumed a suspended contest that was halted due to a fight between the two teams.

    • Two girls state tournament games scheduled for Sunday at St. Joseph's College in Patchogue will need to be relocated after the school canceled all on-campus activities for the remainder of the week.

   Baldwin is scheduled to play Northport in the Class AA quarterfinals. Locust Valley will face Westhampton in Class A.

   A day earlier, SUNY Farmingdale pulled out of hosting two boys basketball games scheduled for Sunday. Elmont against Amityville in Class A and Baldwin vs. Brentwood in Class AA are quarterfinals in search of a new venue.


   CHSAA also making changes: The state Catholic High School Athletic Association boys and girls basketball playoff contests scheduled for this weekend have also been postponed.

   Two boys games scheduled for Erie Community College in Williamsville have been pushed back by a week. Canisius was to take on Fordham Prep in Class A and Bishop Timon-St. Jude was scheduled to play in Class B.

   Girls contests involving Monsignor Martin Association and downstate CHSAA reps was to take place at Christ the King in Queens on Friday and Fordham University on Saturday.

   Meanwhile, Fordham University is willing to host the state Federation tournament as scheduled on the last weekend in March but would not allow fans to attend, Newsday reported. The event is moving downstate this year in an attempt to increase attendance, but had been held at an upstate venue for most of its 28-year existence.

   Federation President Donal Buckley said no decisions have been made. "We're monitoring the situation," said Buckley.

   Conn. calls it quits: The Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference announced Tuesday that it was canceling the remainder of tournaments involving boys and girls basketball, boys ice hockey and boys swimming this season.

   "Coronavirus has just begun here and we don't know how far this will spread," said Glenn Lungarini, executive director of the CIAC. "The CIAC understands and appreciates the disappointment that student athletes, parents, coaches, administrators may feel as the result of this decision, however, we must always place the health and safety of our student athletes first."

   Also on Tuesday, the Ohio High School Athletics Association announced that its postseason competitions will take place as scheduled but "without most spectators in attendance."

   More about empty gyms: I was working on the sports desk at the Democrat and Chronicle in 1984 when a reporter from Utica was brought in to try out for a vacant position. Scott Pitoniak was sent out to a basketball game played between East and McQuaid in an empty gym, the response of the Rochester City School District to violence at several recent games.

   He recalled that experience in a column this week:,P>

   "[T]he only people who wound up watching this highly anticipated match-up were me and a handful of reporters, statisticians, cheerleaders and school officials. Blaring scoreboard buzzers, squeaking sneakers, screaming coaches and vociferous cheerleaders stomping their feet and exhorting their team to "rebound that basketball" never sounded so loud.

   "I wrote that it was one of the best high school basketball games you never saw. One of the strangest, too. Without the fans' reaction to the action, the atmosphere lacked electricity, felt more like a scrimmage. At one point, I remember putting down my notepad and scurrying over to retrieve a basketball that had bounded several rows up into the empty bleachers."

   You can read the rest of his perspective on coronavirus and American sports here.

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