by Tommy Wells
The Bethel Regional High School Warriors, like every other team in the state, found an opponent they couldn’t get past this past weekend – the coronavirus pandemic.
Only a few hours after the Warriors had clinched the runner-up berth to the state tournament by finishing second at the Western Conference Basketball Championships, Bethel found out they would not be advancing to Anchorage for the Class 3A state tournament because, for the first time since 1947, there wouldn’t be a state tournament held.
The annual March Madness event that crowned state champions in Class 1A through Class 4A, was cancelled due to concerns over the spread of the Covid-19 virus.
On Sunday, ASAA officials officially canceled the state basketball tournament, as well as the annual state cheerleading competition. After waiting several days to gauge state and national conditions in relation to the pandemic, ASAA Executive Director Billy Strickland said the event was canceled due to health concerns.
Initially, ASAA officials had hoped to hold the tournament. On March 11, the Alaska School Activities Association announced the postponement of the state basketball and cheerleading championships.
ASAA officials based their decision on the fact that a state emergency was declared by Gov. Mike Dunleavy. Two days later, the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services, the Alaska Chief Medical Officer, the Alaska Division of Public Health and the Office of the Governor issued a health mandate saying all public schools are to be operated as non-student contact days in which students will not be attending school from March 16-30. The mandate also said that during that period, all after school activities were to be suspended.
“The purpose of the mandate is to reduce the possibility for spreading the coronavirus,” the ASAA said in a release in announcing their decision. “ASAA agrees with the State of Alaska’s assessment that our best course of action in dealing with coronavirus is to slow down the statewide spreading of the virus. One of the ways to mitigate the spread is to not have large statewide gatherings. March Madness Alaska is possibly the largest statewide gathering each year and ASAA would not be acting responsibly if we were to host this year’s event.”
A former basketball coach at Bethel, Strickland said he understands many students and adults will be severely disappointed by the cancellation of March Madness Alaska.
“We recognize that for many students this opportunity will not come again,” he said. “However, we prioritize the health of our students, coaches, school staffs, fans and elders over the want to determine this year’s champions.”