MOREHEAD CITY — The high school spring sports season took a dramatic turn at 2:30 p.m. Thursday.
Due to the threat from coronavirus, the N.C. High School Athletic Association (NCHSAA) made the decision to suspend interscholastic athletics beginning at 11:59 p.m. Friday through at least Monday, April 6. The board of directors will assess the situation regularly over the next few weeks. This includes all workouts, skill development, practices and contests.
“As much as we would like this opportunity for our student-athletes, coaches and their communities, we know that ultimately any decision we make must err on the side of caution,” Commissioner Que Tucker said.
It’s not the first time Carteret County has seen a sports season disrupted. The damage inflicted by Hurricane Florence in September 2018 cut a month from that fall campaign.
“A hurricane takes away a lot of things, but this thing, who knows what we’re going to be seeing?” Croatan athletic director Dave Boal said. “We’re in unchartered territory.”
Boal and fellow county high school athletic directors Michael Turner of West Carteret and Daniel Griffee of East Carteret were in agreement that this development is unlike anything they’ve ever encountered. Turner and Griffee are each in their first years as AD.
“At the end of the day, somebody had to make a really hard decision, and I’m really glad it wasn’t me,” Turner said. “I hate it for everybody, but I’m not sure there is an alternative. Hopefully we can dodge a bullet and salvage the season.”
Among those hardest hit are teams with state championship aspirations this spring.
The Croatan girls soccer team brought back nearly its entire roster from a team that went 21-4 in 2019 with its first conference title since 2014. The Cougars advanced to the fourth round of the state playoffs and ended No. 4 in the MaxPreps 2A rankings.
“I feel so bad for (soccer coach) Paul Slater,” Boal said. “I joked that he had time to get some of his players healthy with this break. Hopefully we’ll get to resume play, but we might not. Who knows what is going to happen?”
The East Carteret baseball team returns all but one player from its 1A/2A Coastal 8 Conference championship season. The Mariners went 16-7 and advanced to the third round of the playoffs where they fell 7-6 to a Rosewood team that ended up as the state runner-up. East led 6-5 in the bottom of the seventh inning in that contest.
“It’s unfortunate,” said Griffee who doubles as the baseball coach. “I hate it for the kids. And for every senior, that is the big year. We played Thursday night, and I really hope that wasn’t our senior night. We don’t know if we will get to play again.”
Each school also has a few athletes in track and field who are state champion caliber.
“I have kids that I have to try and explain this to,” Turner said. “It’s rough.”
The sons of Boal and Turner also had their middle school baseball seasons cancelled this past week after just a few games.
“I hate that. They had a pretty good team,” Boal said. “Those kids work hard too.”
The NCHSAA also postponed the boys and girls basketball state championships indefinitely. The 1A, 2A, 3A and 4A state finals were scheduled Saturday.
Earlier on Thursday, the NCHSAA responded to the growing threat from the coronavirus outbreak by announcing it would host the basketball state finals with only essential staff and limited family in attendance. It later decided to postpone the games indefinitely.
The NCHSAA’s decision comes on the heels of major announcements by other sports organizations. The NBA suspended its season Wednesday after a player tested positive for coronavirus. A second player has since tested positive. The NCAA Tournament for men and women’s basketball was cancelled, as well as all remaining winter and spring NCAA championships, including baseball, softball, wrestling, gymnastics and track and field.
The ACC, as well as the Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC, canceled their basketball tournaments.
The NHL also suspended its season and MLB announced its delaying opening day by at least two weeks. MLS announced it is suspending its season for 30 days, while the U.S. Soccer Federation has canceled scheduled friendlies.
NASCAR postponed its race in Atlanta this weekend and Miami next week. IndyCar suspended races through April.
The New York City Half Marathon, scheduled Sunday, has been canceled, and the Boston Marathon has been postponed from April 20 to Sept. 14.
The PGA Tour announced the Players Championship was canceled. The tour was also canceling all other events in the coming weeks through April 5. Augusta National Golf Club said Friday it would postpone the Masters, which was set to tee off on April 9.
“Of course, we’re going to follow suit,” Griffee said. “If the bigger leagues are doing it, we’re going to. It’s going to trickle down. I’m sure it was hard to make this decision. You have to take precautionary measures to prepare for the worst. Hopefully this will put a halt to the spread so we can get back to a normal routine.”
Each athletic director said they will have conference meetings in the next week or so to determine what the future holds.
“We’ll hash out every scenario,” Griffee said. “Maybe we’ll end up just playing conference games. Maybe we’ll cut the conference in half.”
The three athletic directors also expressed hope that upcoming warmer weather would lessen the outbreak.
Officials of the World Health Organization said on March 5 that there’s “no reason to believe that this virus would behave differently in different temperatures” but added that the subject was worth a deeper dive.
At least 128 people have been infected and three have died in Australia, where it’s summer. Among those who have tested positive for coronavirus are Hollywood actor Tom Hanks, who was in the country filming, and his wife Rita.
The pandemic’s global death toll had reached almost 5,000 as of Friday evening, while the global number of cases had surpassed 132,000, according to the UN's health agency.
On Friday, Italy recorded its highest one-day death toll yet from cases of the coronavirus, according to official data. There were 250 deaths recorded over the previous 24 hours, taking the total to 1,266, with 17,660 infections overall, a rise of 2,547 since Thursday evening.
There was a six-fold increase in cases of the coronavirus in the United States from Friday, March 6 to this past Friday, going up from approximately 300 to over 2,000.
Turner said that while it was sad to think of the spring sports season potentially being cancelled, it was secondary to his concerns for the health of the community.
“My mind goes to my mother,” he said. “She turns 73 on Friday. If we can do anything to keep it from spreading and to keep her from getting sick, I’m in. Tell me what I have to do. People are getting sick from this, and that is what matters.”