As if the COVID-19 pandemic hadn’t wreaked enough havoc on this year’s high school basketball schedule, Monday’s heavy snowfall led to the cancellation of this week’s All “A” Classic State Basketball Tournament.
Coaches of participating teams learned the news shortly before it was officially made public around 11 a.m. Tuesday.
“We got the news this morning around 10:30 or so,” Murray girls basketball head coach Tom Foust told The Sun on Tuesday afternoon. “We knew the All ‘A’ was going to do everything they could to get this tournament played to showcase our kids, and I appreciate them doing that. I know it wasn’t an easy decision for anybody. They were put in a tough spot, and they made the call that had to be made.”
The Murray boys, led by head coach Dior Curtis, also were scheduled to compete in the tournament and learned of the news at around the same time.
“We heard they were going into an emergency meeting a little earlier this morning, and it was probably 10 or 10:30 by the time we got the news,” said Curtis, who spoke with The Sun on Tuesday afternoon. “Ice in other parts of Kentucky was a hindrance to people getting there, and we were going to have our own set of challenges to get there, so we understand completely. We’re just disappointed we don’t get a chance to compete.”
Foust agreed, saying the decision was completely understandable given the conditions.
“I think there were some roadways that a lot of teams take to get there that were shut down, and I think that had a lot to do with it,” he said. “But they were exhausting every effort they could to give these kids an opportunity to play, and I appreciate that.”
The 32-team tournament — 16 on each of the boys and girls sides — is held at Eastern Kentucky University in Richmond and was canceled due to dangerous driving conditions throughout the state from Monday’s snowstorm. Six teams — four boys and two girls — had already made the trip ahead of Tuesday’s announcement and were set to play one game each before returning home.
One such team was the Lyon County boys, who were scheduled to face Walton-Verona late Tuesday afternoon.
Murray’s teams, meanwhile, had been gearing up for a Tuesday afternoon departure.
“We were going to practice from 11 to 1, and then we were going to leave about 1:30 today to go to Richmond,” Curtis said.
Foust was ready, too.
“I had parents on standby, and as of this morning, we were all still planning to go,” Foust said. “I talked to quite a few parents after the announcement was made, and they were packed and had kids watching film. We were looking forward to going. We were going to make the trip if it (the tournament) was going to happen.”
In terms of informing the players of the news, Foust first reached out to his seniors — Angela Gierhart, Makenzie Turley and Amy Tish. Though disheartened, the team had already prepared itself for cancellations this season amidst the pandemic.
“They’ve been there (to the tournament) before, but they still appreciate every opportunity they get to go,” he said. “Mentally, the kids were more prepared this year for something like this because after every practice we say, ‘Don’t leave anything out there because this could be our last practice for a while.’ It hurts a little more that it’s the All ‘A’ State, but I think we’re in a good place to handle it this year.”
The Lady Tigers (7-4) were set to open the tournament against Bishop Brossart (9-3), a team led by a Ball State commit in 6-foot-3 senior center Marie Kiefer.
“Bishop has a potential Miss Basketball candidate, so we knew we had a tough draw,” Foust said. “But I never say never with these kids. They’ve been surprising people all year. So against anybody up there, I would’ve given us a good chance.”
Curtis, too, liked his team’s chances of succeeding in the tournament had it been held. The Tigers (8-5) were set to open against Lexington Christian (7-5).
“We were looking forward to it because we felt like we had a really good chance of competing and maybe being able to win the whole thing,” he said. “We feel like we have a really good team this year, and we made it to the final four last year. So feeding off that, we felt like we had a really good opportunity to compete again with us bringing back a lot of guys.”
After learning of the cancellation, Curtis informed his players via text. He said he was especially disappointed for seniors Gabe Taylor, Sebastian Lawrence and Dijon Miles.
“I feel sorry that they don’t get the opportunity to play because they don’t have another year to come back to compete in the All ‘A,’ so it’s tough on them,” he said.
For schools like Murray, the All “A” Tournament is an opportunity to showcase their talent and compete for championships at the state level without having to face teams from much larger schools as is the case in the KHSAA postseason.
That’s why the cancellation is such a big deal for all the teams that had qualified to play in Richmond.
“Being a small school, we understand that we won’t always have the opportunity to play for a regional championship or state tournament because we’re competing against schools of all sizes,” Curtis said. “With us being a 1A school competing against Calloway and Marshall year in and year out from our district to make the regional tournament, the All ‘A’ is a huge thing for us. It’s a good opportunity for our program to be able to play and compete at that level for a state title.”
“It gives small schools a chance to showcase that there is a lot of talent at smaller schools around the state,” he said. “Some of the best players are at these small schools, and they don’t always get the attention because they’re not an end-of-the-year state contender every year, so they don’t get some of the newspaper headlines. But there are some really good coaches and players at these schools.”
The All “A” State Tournament is just the latest casualty of what has been a 2021 basketball season hampered by both the pandemic and the weather.
While many teams have struggled to develop any consistency amidst the COVID quarantine pauses and weather-related cancellations, it’s all about moving forward, Curtis said.
“COVID is one thing, but weather has been another thing that has stopped us from being able to practice and see each other and do some things that we do on a normal basis that we haven’t been able to do,” he said. “It’s been tough on our guys mentally, but they’re mentally strong. And we know this isn’t the end of our season, so we just need to keep going. Once we get a chance to practice again and start back playing, we’ll try to just continue to keep getting better.”