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Missouri Among Just 4 States Allowing High School Basketball Tournaments To Continue

Greg Echlin
KCUR 89.3
Crowds were capped to 60 people per team (including players) during the quarterfinals of the Missouri state basketball tournament in Blue Springs on Saturday.

The stands at Blue Springs South High School were dotted with just a few fans Saturday for the Missouri high school basketball quarterfinals. There was no pep band. But nothing had stopped what likely was the only sporting event in the Kansas City metro area.

Missouri, which has four cases of the coronavirus and whose governor declared a state of emergency the day before, was among rare company this weekend as one of only four states that allowed high school basketball tournaments for girls and boys teams to continue.

Kansas canceled its tournament Thursday after a few games had been played, and the majority of state tournaments across the country have been canceled or suspended. All pro leagues have suspended their seasons and the NCAA canceled all of its tournaments for the rest of the school year — including its marquee men’s basketball tourney.

“We were somewhat assured, barring a probably a large outbreak in Missouri, that we’d probably get this in,” said Blue Springs coach Mark Spigarelli after his girls team beat Liberty 51-41 to advance to the Class 5 semifinals. 

The Missouri State High School Activities Association (MSHSAA) capped the number of fans at Saturday’s four games to 60 per school — including the players, coaching staff and team personnel. The organization also acknowledged Gov. Mike Parson’s declaration in a statement regarding its decision to carry on. 

“We are monitoring what is happening from the Missouri Department of Health, the governor’s office and the Department of Elementary and Secondary Educations,” the organization said Friday in a statement.

Credit Greg Echlin / KCUR 89.3
KCUR 89.3
A smattering of fans watched the Blue Springs-Liberty girls quarterfinal game of the state tournament on Saturday.

The quarterfinal games were originally scheduled to be played in Silverstein Eye Centers Arena in Independence, but were moved to Blue Springs South. When contacted by MSHSAA about finding a smaller venue, Blue Springs South Athletic Director Mark Bubalo said his school’s gym would be available.  

But all the way until the 1 p.m. Saturday tipoff, Bubabo wasn’t certain it would actually happen.

“We got a call a couple hours before that declaration (of the state of emergency in Missouri) and said, ‘Look, this may change everything. We’re in close contact with the governor’s office,’” he said. 

Credit Greg Echlin / KCUR 89.3
KCUR 89.3
Blue Springs South Athletic Director Mark Bubalo said the state athletics association reached out to him about hosting tournament games earlier in the week.

Blue Springs advances to Friday’s state semifinal game in Springfield, where there is a confirmed case.  Bubalo said he hopes the path to finals is uninterrupted.

“I’m probably 50-50 in confidence,” he said. “I think the public pressure on public officials grows every day.”

Before facing Grain Valley in a Class 4 quarterfinal, Lincoln Prep girls basketball coach Jeff Atkins remarked on how quickly things had changed Thursday at the Big 12 men’s and women’s basketball tournaments in Kansas City. It went from full attendance for the men’s first round on Wednesday night to “limited access” games announced for Thursday, before total cancellation shortly before the 11:30 a.m. Thursday tipoff.

Before Lincoln Prep took the floor for an early-evening practice Friday, Atkins was also unsure whether the quarterfinal games would happen. 

“It’s scary because when (President Donald) Trump came on TV, I just made it home and my assistant coach called and said, ‘Did you watch the TV?’” said Atkins. “I said, ‘What happened?’ She said, ‘Trump just declared a national state of emergency.’ When you pull that plug, everybody can pull the whole blanket on everything.”

Credit Greg Echlin / KCUR 89.3
KCUR 89.3
Lincoln Prep girls coach Jeff Atkins is trying to lead his team to its first state championship.

Lincoln Prep finished 22-5 last year after dropping the title match against Incarnate Word, ending its bid for the school’s first girls state basketball title. 

This year’s team is hoping to accomplish what they feel is unfinished business at the state tournament — if they’re allowed to.

Greg Echlin is a freelance sports reporter for KCUR 89.3.

Sports have an economic and social impact on our community and, as a sports reporter, I go beyond the scores and statistics. I also bring the human element to the sports figures who have a hand in shaping the future of not only their respective teams but our town. Reach me at gregechlin@aol.com.
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