LOVELAND – Coaches’ messages were heard loud and clear and every bounce of a basketball, slip of a sneaker and muffled chants were magnified Thursday at the opening day of the Class 2A Colorado High School Activities Association’s Great 8 at a nearly-empty Budweiser Events Center in Loveland.
The general public was not allowed entry because of the COVID-19 pandemic. CHSAA announced late Wednesday that it would not allow any fans into the state tournament. The organization changed the decision later in the night to allow each player to bring four family members or guests. Soon after Thursday night’s games were completed, CHSAA did announce the rest of its state basketball tournaments would be canceled.
State basketball tournaments across the country were canceled Thursday in Illinois, Ohio, Oklahoma and Texas, and CHSAA officials said they were monitoring the situation closely all day. CHSAA also announced Thursday that all spring sports would be suspended through April 6, but the state basketball tournaments would continue. That was until the late decision Thursday evening.
CHSAA assistant commissioner Justin Saylor, who oversaw the Class 2A tournament in Loveland, said the decision to limit fans at Thursday games was in the best interest of student-athletes.
“We felt that was looking out for not only our student-athletes but our communities,” Saylor said. “Allowing those family members that did make the trip and were going to be here feel like that they could be a part of what is really a special time and event for those students. While it was a difficult decision to not let entire fan bases and communities in, it was important to us to make sure that we had immediate families and those that did make the trip with their students to still be able to be involved with the whole event.”
At the Budweiser Events Center, additional signs reminding fans to wash their hands were put up, but there were no extra hand-sanitizing stations around the arena.
For Limon girls basketball head coach Bart O’Dwyer, seeing a fraction of a normally-full fan base was strange. He said the last 24 hours were hectic, but he felt CHSAA made the correct decision.
“I’m appreciative to have the tournament and not cancel on these kids,” O’Dwyer said after a quarterfinal win over No. 8 Holly. “We’ve got a lot of seniors on the team, and it was hard on them last night. Today, it’s going to be a year from now if it’s going to be the right or wrong decision, and time will tell. It was really different today. Limon’s fan base is really big and they do a great job of following us. It’s tough, but it’s what we’re dealing with and every team is dealing with this issue all weekend.”
When CHSAA announced its decision Wednesday that it would allow a limited attendance, Ignacio High School athletic director Leo Garand said the department was all hands on deck starting at 6:30 a.m. Thursday to spread the word to traveling fans.
“Melanie Taylor, Rocco Fuschetto and I got on it really early this morning,” Garand said. “We’ve been fielding a ton of phone calls from different people in the community who were looking for updates. We did our best to spread the word with robo-calls, voicemails.”
Despite smaller-than-usual numbers, Ignacio fans showed up together. Neoma Quintana, the grandmother of Ignacio senior captain Makayla Howell, was happy CHSAA kept the tournament going.
“I’m really proud of how well we traveled,” Quintana said. “I just wish we would’ve known earlier because the number of people that were going to come up tonight changed their plans last night. We didn’t have much time to get a hold of people, but we’re happy that everybody did come. I’m happy CHSAA changed their mind.
“At first when they announced no fans, we kept thinking positively. We thought that something would change when the girls were so upset. But I think in the end, good thoughts prevailed.”
Unfortunately, those good thoughts only went through Thursday, as the teams at state will now board buses home on Friday morning.