Coronavirus in Oklahoma: High school basketball coaches react to postponement of state tournaments
Chuck London accepted a phone call while driving on the turnpike in a bus filled with his Fort Gibson girls basketball players.
The conversation was unlike any the veteran coach has experienced.
London was informed Thursday the high school state basketball tournaments for Classes 6A-2A had been postponed, due to the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak. The tournaments were scheduled to begin at 2 p.m. at 10 sites in the Tulsa and Oklahoma City metro areas.
Filled with a range of emotions, London pulled off toward an exit and stopped the bus. Never having to give a message like it before, he informed his players of the situation. He was met with looks of disbelief and shock as reality set in for the players.
Fort Gibson was not going to make its 16th consecutive state tournament appearance Thursday. And instead of preparing for a Class 4A night game against Tulsa Victory Christian at Southern Nazarene, London and his team were heading home.
“I was in shock for quite a while and probably still in shock right now,” London said. “Thinking about all the time and effort those kids put in and then you specifically start thinking about your seniors, who have worked so hard for this opportunity. Whether they had a chance last year as juniors or not, it really doesn’t matter.”
High school basketball coaches throughout the state had similar reactions.
For Millwood boys coach Mike Jeffries, this is perhaps the worst year for the state tournament to possibly get canceled.
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His son, Myles, is a senior for the Class 3A Falcons, who haven’t won a state title since 2013.
Mike Jeffries had his players practice and go through their normal routine before learning the Falcons’ 2 p.m. matchup against Oklahoma Christian School was postponed.
“I just kept things business as usual, hoping for the best," he said. "Went out there, worked with my boys for a minute, went back in my office and I got a call from my AD. Since my AD was calling me, I already knew what was up.”
Jeffries said his players were devastated when he told them the news.
“For those kids, this is what they play for,” he said.
The disappointment was especially high for coaches and players who haven’t experienced the state tournament.
Jenni Holbrook coached the Jones girls to their first state tournament appearance in school history. The Class 2A Longhorns were in the parking lot of State Fair Arena when they were informed of the postponement.
The Longhorns exited the bus and took a picture outside of the arena. As of now, it is the closest they've come to stepping on the Big House hardwood.
“All I hope is they let the high school kids play it out,” Holbrook said. “For us especially. (We) never have been and worked so hard to get there. I just hope we get to play.
“I don’t care if we get to play at the Big House. I don’t care if we have to play at 500 high school gyms across the state where we just play our individual games. Let us play the games with no fans, and let the kids decide it on the court.”
The Oklahoma Secondary School Activities Association has not announced how long the postponement will last.
Shawnee boys coach Ron Arthur remains positive. The Class 5A Wolves were at a Ted's Cafe Escondido in Tulsa as they processed the news, and Arthur tried to make light of the situation.
“We were sitting there waiting to order and I said, ‘Guys, order whatever you want to order because you guys are state champions,’” Arthur said.
There is still optimism the tournaments will take place.
Anadarko girls coach Jeff Zinn hopes his players get the chance to win their second-straight Class 4A state title.
“My team and I were crushed by it,” Zinn said. “I feel bad for all the teams that had spent the last year working extremely hard to possibly live out a dream of winning a state championship. Most of the teams like us had battled through flu A and B as well as strep and other illnesses throughout the season to get to this point. I just pray these kids get that opportunity at a later date.”
Nick Sardis joined The Oklahoman in 2017, and he covers high school sports. Born and raised in Norman, he played baseball at Norman North High School and is a student at the University of Oklahoma. Read more ›
James D. Jackson joined The Oklahoman in January 2020 to cover high school sports. He a University of Central Oklahoma graduate. During his time at UCO, James served as a sports reporter and Editor-in-Chief of the student newspaper, The Vista.... Read more ›