The Hoosac Valley girls basketball team was going hard in practice.
Then, it got some hard news.
“I think it was Averie [McGrath]’s dad who came in and told us,” Ron Wojcik said. “We read the announcement to everyone. It was pretty weird at that point. Surreal was the word that came to mind.”
Surreal, but not wholly unexpected.
Late Thursday afternoon, the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association announced that all of this weekend's state championship games in basketball and hockey are canceled due to concerns about COVID-19.
That means that Wojcik’s Hurricanes and the boys and girls basketball teams from Taconic High, instead of getting ready to play for a state title on Saturday, are done for the season and will be named co-State Champions with their counterparts from the eastern part of the commonwealth.
“We really had a good practice today,” Wojcik said with a laugh. “Today, we were getting ready for St. Mary’s. It was all business. Yesterday, we relaxed a little. The kids were tired and whatnot [from Tuesday’s state semi-final win]. Today, we were back to what we usually do.”
Instead, the MIAA is the latest in a long line of sports entities nationwide to take an anything but business-as-usual approach to helping stop the spread of the global pandemic.
The preceding 24 hours saw, among other things, the NBA and NHL suspend their seasons, the NCAA cancel its remaining winter and spring championships (including the March Madness men's and women's basketball tournaments), Major League Baseball suspend spring training and Boston media outlets report that the Boston Athletic Association is postponing April's Boston Marathon. As of Thursday evening, there was no official announcement from the BAA.
The MIAA decision was announced first to the affected schools on Thursday in an email from Associate Director Richard L. Pearson.
"The unprecedented conditions of the past days as well as the days and weeks ahead caused the MIAA Board of Directors to make this decision for the safety of all student-athletes, coaches and school communities," Pearson wrote. "[MIAA basketball liaison] Peter Smith will be in touch with all schools as to a future trophy presentation."
Taconic boys coach Bill Heaphy said he was deeply disappointed and stunned by the news.
“I was saying all along that we were going to get this in, and I was hopeful that was going to happen even as things unfolded by the hour,” Heaphy said.
“[My players] were very disappointed. They wanted that one more chance, especially Isaac [Percy] and Mohammed [Sanogo]. And we felt good going in, even though we knew it was going to be a big challenge. We just wanted that one more opportunity and a chance for the young guys to experience it, that hurts as well.”
Wojcik, who teaches at Taconic, has an appreciation for the impact on all the Berkshire County players who were slated to compete in Saturday’s finals. He said that the local basketball community understood that cancelation was a possibility.
“I have a lot of Taconic players in my classes from both the boys and girls teams,” he said. “We thought it could happen.
“One of the Taconic players told me after their game [Wednesday] night, someone told them there wouldn’t be any fans at the game on Saturday.”
In fact, as Wojcik spoke Thursday and hours after the decision was announced on Saturday’s games, the MIAA was conducting the last of the basketball state semi-finals in front of empty bleachers at Worcester State University. That move was similar to some early-round NCAA tournament games, like at Amherst College last weekend.
“Honestly, I didn’t want to play a state final in front of no fans,” Wojcik said. “To me, that one never made sense.
“I understand you’re not bringing in throngs of people, but you’re still bringing in kids from different parts of the state, and at the NCAA level bringing kids together from different parts of the country.”
As for the co-State Champion designation, it’s a bittersweet accomplishment.
“I guess it means we didn’t lose our last game,” Taconic’s Heaphy said. “They’re going to always be remembered in some fashion. There is some feeling of: You put the work in and you got something for it that’s positive and good.”
Wojcik said there was a little joy about being awarded a second straight state title at the end of Hoosac’s practice, but “any athlete or coach would rather play the game.”
That said, he understands the MIAA’s decision and thought it was inevitable after Wednesday night’s announcement that the NBA was suspending its season.
“Realistically, to me right now, it’s the smart thing to do,” Wojcik said. “First and foremost needs to be the health of the student-athletes. Kids are out there bumping into each other and sweating all over the place. There’s no question it’s the right thing to do.”
Wojcik said he wishes the state could hit the pause button on the winter season and, perhaps, bring the teams together for state finals in a couple of months. But he realizes that there are logistical concerns, not the least of which would be conflicts with a spring season already being abbreviated due to COVID-19 concerns.
In a separate decision on Thursday, the MIAA announced that it is pushing the start of spring sports practices to at least March 30.
Originally, the practices were set to begin on Monday, March 16, with the first games being played as early as March 31.
Mount Greylock Athletic Director Lindsey von Holtz reported that the maximum number of contests allowed per team per sport will be reviewed by the state association, which will revisit the question of the start of practices over the next two weeks.
In the near future, Heaphy said he will bring his players together for one last basketball practice on Friday because he wants to have a chance to talk to them in future after giving them today’s news remotely, after they had gone home from practice.
“It’s a bigger life lesson,” he said. “Sometimes things don’t turn out as you anticipated, but you’ve got to go with it and see the silver lining beneath. That’s what I hope.
“As time goes by, there will be another thing coming up that gets their attention, and we’ll move on and be OK. But right now, it’s tough to wrap your emotions around it because I’ve got a lot of them. When you think about being sick or dying and so forth, that quickly snaps you back into place.”
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Pittsfield Schools Extend Remote Learning as COVID Cases Rise
By Brittany PolitoiBerkshires Staff
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The Pittsfield Public School will remain in remote-learning for the immediate future because of the high numbers of COVID-19 cases.
All schools in the district had switched to full remote from their hybrid structure beginning Nov. 12, the same time the city also suspended all indoor dining.
In a press release, interim Superintendent Joseph Curtis wrote that as of Dec. 4, health metrics began to show development of a downward trend and in-person learning could possibly resume no earlier than Friday, Dec. 18.
Nonetheless, he stated that current data indicates that students are unlikely to return to in-person education before the traditional holiday break begins on Dec. 23.
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