With the exception of a few lacrosse games that dodged sub-freezing temperatures and snowflakes, an entire spring high school sports season was lost to the COVID-19 pandemic.
All organized summer program, aside from some small-group conditioning, fell by the wayside. And a start-and-stop fall campaign was by anywhere from a third to a half for most sports, with football still making every effort to limp past the finish line.
And on Wednesday, coronavirus continued cutting its swath as a thorn in the side for all seasons, eliminating more than a month of winter sports, including Kentucky’s hallowed high school basketball season.
In deference to nearly every county in the state falling into the red zone on the COVID incidence rate map, the KHSAA board of control voted not to sanction any winter sporting events until Monday, Jan. 4, 2021.
District, region and state tournaments will be pushed back slightly but are still set to conclude in March, in accordance with tradition.
It is a major blow to what is traditionally a 30-game regular season for the basketball, one that was initially set to begin this Monday, Nov. 23.
While acknowledging at one point that “basketball is the lifeblood of our state,” KHSAA commissioner Julian Tackett also noted that last year’s travails were a primary reason for not nudging hoops into April or May.
“We stuck to the fact that we were going to preserve the spring. We don’t ever want a spring of 2020 again,” Tackett said.
At least two neighboring states, Ohio and Indiana, appear on track to having their seasons started by Thanksgiving.
It was clear from the outset of Thursday’s virtual meeting – which included a lively “work session” of more than four hours before the vote – that moving ahead as normal was not among the options.
“I really can’t in clear conscience tell you that I think it’s a good idea for our member schools to start playing official games this coming Monday,” Tackett said. “I know there will be parents upset. That’s OK. I know there will be coaches upset. There will be kids upset.”
There was a good chance the ball would have been knocked out of the board’s hands, anyhow, after Gov. Andy Beshear’s announcements at his daily press briefing later in the day.
Beshear announced a three-week closing of restaurants and bars to in-person traffic and ordered schools to a virtual learning format until after New Year’s Day.
Although the KHSAA initially said winter sports practice would remain permissible under local control, one of Beshear’s remarks appeared to indicate that it would not be allowed again until Dec. 13.
The KHSAA told multiple media outlets Wednesday evening that it was seeking clarification of those comments and would follow-up with member schools.
One almost certain casualty of the changes will be the Toyota Classic, which was scheduled for Dec. 9-12 after being played in January for a quarter-century.
District athletic director Daniel-Taylor Wells said tournament stakeholders will meet Friday to discuss options, one of which could be a pared-down tournament around the traditional January date.
With five weeks’ worth of games already eliminated and schools scrambling to rebuild schedules, that could prove a steep hill to climb.
The Toyota Classic is considered the No. 1 annual fundraiser for athletics at both county high schools, benefiting not only basketball but many smaller-revenue sports across the board.
In navigating what becomes an eight-week regular season, KHSAA officials have to deal with at least one domino effect of their own: Finding officials to staff all those games.
Tackett said the state has lost 350 referees since last winter. Some have opted out to COVID and hopefully will return in the future, he said.
The commissioner also estimated that up to 25% of board officials are 60 years of age or older, putting them in a high-risk group for the virus.
District tournaments now will start March 1, with regional tournaments beginning March 8. State tournaments would run the weeks March 17-21 and March 24-28 at Rupp Arena, pending conflicts with other events.
Kal Oakes can be reached via email at email@example.com.