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TSSAA keeps alive South's state tournament hopes

Douglas Fritz • Mar 17, 2020 at 8:37 PM

Hope is a fantastic thing, and on Tuesday the TSSAA Board of Control held it out for high school basketball teams.

But Sullivan South boys coach Michael McMeans, acknowledging the reality of the national health emergency, said trying to resume basketball in mid-May might keep things from coming together in a meaningful way.

The TSSAA Board of Control voted unanimously to attempt to find a way to get the state basketball tournaments completed. The organization is also seeking a way to keep its Spring Fling in place, perhaps with different dates.

“I think it was one of two options,” said Matthew Gillespie, assistant executive director for the TSSAA. “Delay and hope to play, or shut it all down. The board chose option one. Obviously, there will be obstacles with that, but I think they wanted to hold out hope that it can be done.”

TSSAA Executive Director Bernard Childress said his organization isn’t giving up on the basketball tournament, adding it would do everything it could to make it happen.

“But there may come a point when we have to say we can’t get it done,” Childress said. “I just want all our student-athletes to know we’ve done the best we could.”

Childress acknowledged the TSSAA could be creating a pipe dream.

McMeans said he wants nothing more than for his team to play. The Rebels earned the first state tournament berth in school history by beating Alcoa last week in a Class AA sectional contest. South was scheduled to face Pearl Cohn of Nashville in the quarterfinals this week.

“If we can play, we want to play. If we can, let’s try,” said McMeans, who nevertheless added that the logistics of a mid-May event might not work out.

“I would still be shocked if they play it,” he said.

Hampton also made the tournament. Coach Ned Smith’s Class A team was scheduled to meet Loretto in the quarterfinals.

Smith said he’s fine with anything for the Bulldogs.

“We’re gung-ho and I’m tickled to death they are going to play it whenever,” he said. “The kids would get the experience of playing in the state tournament.”

One of the issues facing all of the teams would be practice time.

“They have said teams won’t be allowed to practice until two weeks before the tournament, but how would they monitor schools that may not follow the rule?” McMeans said. “It has to be an even playing field.”

Another issue would be trying to recapture the execution and momentum built up during the regular season and the district and region tournaments after doing nothing, basketball-wise, for six weeks or more.

“It would be hard to just pick up in May and go play, just hoping everybody was on the same page,” McMeans noted. “And those practices would be tough. It would be hard to get them in basketball shape.”

Also, five Rebels basketball players are also on the baseball team. They would have to make a tough choice between sticking with their baseball teammates — should their season resume — or returning to the basketball court.

Also, South’s players and coaches had already dealt with the difficult-to-accept likelihood the tournament would not be played.

“You just hurt for the kids,” McMeans said. “But if the last game of the season was going on the road to beat Alcoa, that’s a pretty good way of going out.”

There was also talk of moving the games to different sites other than Murfreesboro’s Murphy Center.

“If you can’t play in Murphy Center, don’t junk it up to the point it’s not really a high school basketball state tournament game, where the experience isn’t the same,” McMeans said.

The girls basketball tournament began last week, and the first two days were completed — including Science Hill’s Class AAA loss to Stone Memorial. Twelve teams reached Friday’s semifinal round, but those six games did not take place because of the coronavirus outbreak. The TSSAA plan would have the girls finish first, followed by the boys’ event in the same week.

The Board of Control also passed a motion to continue to let local school administrators determine the regular-season fates of their spring sports teams. If any schools don’t play regular-season games, they would still be eligible for postseason play.

One of the proposed recommendations to allow more time was to push back Spring Fling two weeks. It’s currently slated for May 19-22 in Murfreesboro. A problem with that would be the potential lack of availability of hotel rooms during the first week of June. Instead, the TSSAA may look at the last week of May.