By Maurice Patton
As the coronavirus pandemic continues to rage across Tennessee, news of further restrictions on attendance at the state’s high school sporting events and cancellations of two area basketball tournaments next week were not entirely related.
Mike Smithson, athletics director at Hickman County High School, said he and other officials had considered shutting down the Above The Rim Invitational as it approached its 13th year, even before Governor Bill Lee’s announcement Sunday night of Executive Order No. 70.
In collaboration with the Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association, the order limits admission to “school-sponsored and other youth athletics” to “game, school and facility administrators, athletics officials, coaching and team personnel, parents, guardians, or other immediate household members of athletes, … media and athletic scouting personnel attending the event in their professional capacity, and first responders”.
Representatives of both the Above The Rim and the Richland Christmas Classic tourneys confirmed Monday that their three-day events – each set to start Dec. 28 – will not take place.
“I was concerned anyway about bringing 14 teams into our facility,” said Smithson, who had replaced the Northwest girls with East Hickman to keep that eight-team bracket intact after Clarksville-Montgomery County Schools athletics were put on pause over the holidays. Word that Mt. Pleasant’s boys would be unavailable because of a positive test result within its program virtually sealed the event’s fate.
Along with Mt. Pleasant’s boys and girls, the tournament was to include Columbia Academy’s boys and girls and Summit’s boys as well as Dickson County’s girls, Battle Ground Academy, East Hickman, Lipscomb Academy, Nolensville and the host Bulldogs and Lady Bulldogs.
“It’s not getting any better,” Smithson said, referring to the pandemic. “(Admitting) two per player, and this is supposed to be a fundraiser? There’s no way we were going to make money. We’d have lost money.”
Basketball activities at Richland have been paused until Dec. 28, with competition to resume on Jan. 4, according to girls coach Chad Hall. Eagleville, Forrest, Huntland, Santa Fe and Wayne County were set to participate in next week’s tourney along with the girls teams from Fayetteville and Summertown, the boys teams from Cornersville and Lexington and the host squads.
Meanwhile, the inaugural Summit Girls Classic will be held Dec. 28-30, with the Spartan women facing Nolensville, White House and Westmoreland. Also participating will be Franklin, Father Ryan and Stewarts Creek.
The executive order, which will be in effect until Jan. 20, prohibits cheerleaders, bands and dance teams at high school sporting events.
According to a TSSAA release:
“The Governor’s office conferred with TSSAA about these restrictions. TSSAA concurs with Governor’s office that these restrictions represent the best means for us to continue providing interscholastic athletic participation opportunities to our student-athletes while also doing our part to curb the spread of the virus.
“We remain hopeful that we will soon begin to see a decline in the instances of infection and that our schools will soon be able to return to more normal operation of their athletic competition.”