High School Sports

Alaska state high school basketball tournaments postponed because of coronavirus concerns

Alaska’s state high school basketball tournaments, scheduled to begin next Wednesday at the Alaska Airlines Center, have been postponed due to concern over the new coronavirus, the Alaska School Activities Association said Wednesday.

When or if they will be rescheduled — or canceled altogether — is uncertain, ASAA executive director Billy Strickland said.

“They could very well be canceled,” he said.

But, he added, “We shouldn’t rush to that decision. ... We don’t want to feel like we have to make a hasty decision."

The decision to postpone the state tournaments came in a health alert issued by the state of Alaska on Wednesday. “The state tournament that was to be held in Anchorage will be postponed until further notice,” it said.

Strickland said ASAA is viewing the postponements as a mandate by the state, and he said ASAA supports the state’s desire to contain the spread of the virus.

So far, there are no known cases of COVID-19 in Alaska.

“We are in total support of what the intent of this is — to not get the entire state of Alaska sick at the same time,” Strickland said. “... We don’t want to crown a champion and then have the whole state of Alaska get sick.”

Conference tournaments scheduled for this week — and there are many, being held all over the state — can go on as planned, Strickland said. Those include three happening in Anchorage at Anchorage Christian, Grace Christian and Dimond High.

The Fairbanks North Star Borough School District said Wednesday night that as an extra precaution it is canceling the Class 4A and Class 3A conference basketball tournaments due to start Thursday at North Pole High School.

But conference tournaments scheduled to begin after Saturday also will be postponed, according to an advisory issued Wednesday by ASAA. Only two conference tournaments are scheduled for next week — Anchorage’s Cook Inlet Conference tournament, scheduled to be held at West High, and the Northern Lights Conference tournament, scheduled to be held at Colony High.

However, Strickland said there’s a chance the CIC tournament could still go on, since the teams involved are already in Anchorage. The intent of the postponements, he said, “is to not get a bunch of communities together and then return home. ... I think that since the CIC is not (teams from multiple communities) they might still run that tournament.”

The Anchorage School District, whose schools are currently on spring break, did not immediately respond to questions about the CIC tournament.

The postponement and potential cancellation of the state tournaments will have far-reaching impacts. The tournaments are a major source of revenue for ASAA and contribute millions of dollars to the Anchorage economy, according to an study by the McDowell Group referenced by ASAA.

Thousands of people from nearly every corner of Alaska gather for the tournaments, collectively known as March Madness Alaska. The event consists of eight boys and girls tournaments in four divisions ranging from Alaska’s smallest schools in Class 1A to its biggest in Class 4A.

The Class 1A and 2A tournaments were scheduled to run Wednesday through Saturday next week. The Class 3A and 4A tournament were scheduled for March 25-28. There are 32 boys and girls teams in the Class 1A tournament and 16 boys and girls team in each of the other three.

On Tuesday, Strickland had said the state tournaments were still on as scheduled, but said ASAA was communicating daily with state officials about the coronavirus.

Last year, the state tournaments attracted more than 32,000 spectators to the Alaska Airlines Center, according to an ASAA fact sheet. In addition, the tournaments brought 80 basketball teams, more than 20 cheerleading teams, 250 staff and 125 volunteers to the Alaska Airlines Center during the two weeks of competition.

In its health alert issued Wednesday, the state of Alaska recommends that people over 60, people with medical conditions such as heart disease, lung disease or diabetes and people with a fever or symptoms of an acute respiratory illness not attend this week’s conference tournaments.

ASAA also said it has canceled the Alaska Association of Student Governments’ Spring Conference, which was scheduled to be held April 3-5 at Mt. Edgecumbe High School in Sitka.

Beth Bragg

Beth Bragg wrote about sports and other topics for the ADN for more than 35 years, much of it as sports editor. She retired in October 2021. She's contributing coverage of Alaskans involved in the 2022 Winter Olympics.