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VPA, NHIAA halt action and leave future uncertain

  • Gathered for a practice instead of the Division III semifinal with Thetford, which was postponed due to concerns over COVID-19, Head Coach Bruce Mackay talks to his the team in Windsor, Vt., Thursday, March 12, 2020. Assistant Kabray Rockwood, middle, encouraged the team to stay focused while a reschedule of the game remains possible. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Holly Putnam warms up with her Windsor basketball teammates during a practice scheduled in the absence of their postponed Division III semifinal with Thetford, in Windsor, Vt., Thursday, March 12, 2020. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Windsor High School girls basketball players leave the gym in Windsor, Vt., Thursday, March 12, 2020, with gift bags meant to be given to them in Barre before their Division III semifinal. The Vermont Principals' Association has postponed semifinal games for divisions I and III to prevent the possible spread of COVID-19. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 3/12/2020 10:18:35 PM
Modified: 3/12/2020 10:19:08 PM

The impact of COVID-19 has trickled down to high school sports in the Upper Valley.

On Thursday afternoon the Vermont Principals Association postponed the evening’s scheduled Division III girls basketball semifinals at Barre Auditorium in Barre, Vt., and the D-I girls semis at UVM’s Patrick Gymnasium in Burlington due to concerns surrounding COVID-19. An announcement is expected Friday morning on the future of VPA tournament action for girls basketball, the only sport left to finish its postseason under VPA watch.

The New Hampshire Interscholastic Athletic Association postponed Thursday’s events as well but later in the day announced that it would finish out its postseason with spectator restrictions enforced.

Here’s what you need to know:

NHIAA

Early Thursday afternoon, it was announced the NHIAA had postponed the D-I girls basketball semifinals at Exeter High, the spirit finals at Pinkerton Academy in Derry, and the unified basketball semifinal games in Berlin and Exeter.

Then, New Hampshire schools’ governing body of athletics sent out a media release at 4:39 p.m. detailing its plan moving forward. The NHIAA will finish out its basketball, hockey and spirit seasons, but events will be closed to the general public. Refunds will be given out to all who have already purchased tickets.

Only coaches, players, necessary staff and credentialed media will be allowed into games. Participants in contests will be given four tickets strictly for the use of immediate family. The NHIAA is also working with the NFHS network to livestream all games.

“Our fans and community support are an essential part of the high school experience,” NHIAA Executive Director Jeff Collins said in a statement. “However, in light of the recommendations and the conditions existing in our country, we ask for everyone’s patience, cooperation and understanding.”

This means the fourth-seeded Lebanon High girls basketball team will still play its D-II championship game against No. 3 Spaulding on Saturday afternoon at the University of New Hampshire’s Lundholm Gymnasium but in front of a much smaller crowd.

The Hanover and Lebanon boys basketball teams will play Friday night on the road in D-II quarterfinal action.

“The alternative of these kids ending their senior years without a culmination would be awful, especially in light of all these other states and organizations who can’t do that,” Lebanon High boys basketball coach Kieth Matte said. “We’re grateful, that’s the right word.”

VPA

The VPA had earlier planned to play the scheduled games at Barre Auditorium and the University of Vermont on Thursday night but keep them closed to the general public. By 1 p.m., the games had been called off altogether.

Affected D-III games in Barre included No. 5 Oxbow (17-5) taking on No. 1 Lake Region (19-2) at 6:30 p.m., and No. 2 Windsor (19-3) facing rival No. 3 Thetford (19-3) at 8:15 p.m.

Now, not knowing the future of their seasons, coaches are trying to continue preparation as if games will be eventually played.

Windsor coach Bruce Mackay put his team through its usual workout Thursday afternoon. Still, he’s entering waters he’s never thought would become a reality in his 14-plus years of coaching.

“It’s a tough day because you really feel for the kids,” Mackay said. “They’ve worked so hard all year long to just get into this situation, to just get to play in this game (the semifinals). And I think we’re ready, and that’s what hurts the most.

“I’m approaching it that we’re going to play. That’s why we went hard tonight. We’re hoping to play. … At this point, I don’t care if we just play with two teams.”

Added Yellowjacket senior and all-time scoring leader Olivia Rockwood: “To find out we might not be able to have fans, that’s crazy. Without the fans, it’s really not Barre. It’s just another gym. I’m not ready for it to be over yet. I get emotional just thinking about it. I hope that we at least have one more game.”

Similar to Windsor, Eric Ward put his Thetford team through what he considered a “nice workout” at Vaughan Gymnasium on Thursday afternoon.

Initial plans called for limiting each player at the Aud to five family members to watch, what would have amounted to about 400 people combined for the four semifinal teams, Ward estimated. As the Panthers started compiling lists, the team received word they wouldn’t be playing Thursday night.

“We could have gone up tonight and have the teams play the games without spectators; the girls were willing to do that,” the Thetford coach said. “With no game, we could have gone home after school, but I felt it was best to get us all together.

“They’re really ready to play. It’s really disappointing because we had three good practices this week. They understand what’s going on. It’s hard to see it end like this.”

His heart — selfishly, he confessed — wants the rest of the tournament to happen, but Ward’s head is saying otherwise.

“It’s hard: You wake up this morning preparing for a game with Windsor, waiting for that game since last year,” Ward said. “A couple of hours later things change, and a couple of hours later it’s not happening at all.

“It’s will we play, when will we play, when will we find out. I feel bad. I’ll be able to coach another year, but the seniors don’t know when their last game was. It could be last Friday, or it could be next week.”

Earlier Thursday, Bob Johnson, the VPA’s associate executive director, said the decision to play Thursday’s games closed to the public had been made in consultation with the University of Vermont on Wednesday night, when the VPA was hosting its hockey finals there.

“UVM approached me and said, ‘This is what the NCAA and America East have done,’ ” Johnson said. “They’re having to play their game without having any fans on Saturday,” during the America East men’s and women’s basketball championship finals.

“By doing that, that meant we had to do that with our games at UVM. And if we’re going to do it there, we’re going to do it at Barre Auditorium.”

After the America East canceled its men’s and women’s basketball championship games scheduled for this weekend, the VPA announced it would be postponing Thursday’s games.

Johnson said that the VPA will make a decision about playing spring sports next week.

Also on Thursday, the Vermont Basketball Coaches Association decided to cancel its senior all-star games — scheduled for March 21 at Windsor High — because of COVID-19 concerns. The organization plans to name award winners and its all-star teams soon.

Pete Nakos can be reached at pnakos@vnews.com.




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