No March Madness, Alaska Style in 2020

Coronavirus cuts short state’s high school basketball season

Conference playoff tournaments held in Anchorage and elsewhere in Alaska on March 12-14 signaled the end of the Alaska high school basketball season this year. 

Last year, over 32,000 people from all over Alaska attended ASAA March Madness, Alaska Style at the Alaska Airlines Center on the UAA Campus. 

This year the stands of that massive arena will sit empty as fans and players from tiny 1A schools to big 4A campuses ponder what might have been.

On Friday, March 13, three days after announcing the tournament would be indefinitely postponed, Billy Strickland, ASAA’s executive director, said cancellation was a difficult but necessary decision.

“Ultimately sports (is about) teamwork and sacrifice, and this is coming down to a lot of sacrifice because we’re on the team of Alaska,” he said.

The 1A-2A and 3A-4A tournaments, which run on consecutive weekends late in March, are among the biggest gathering in Alaska, said Strickland, who at one time coached the Bethel boys.

Strickland said that during a week that saw the suspension of myriad events worldwide, he became more fully aware of the need to eliminate large gatherings of people in order to hopefully avoid a sharp rise of COVID-19 cases that could overwhelm the healthcare system.

Not coincidentally, the NCAA College March Madness tournament, one of the biggest sporting events in the country, had already been cancelled, and it seemed almost inevitable that Alaska’s smaller version would follow.

The Cordova girls and boys teams, competing in the Interior Conference 2A Playoffs at SuValley on March 12-14, were one of the many schools that saw their season come to an unexpected end.

The Interior Conference has six girls and six boys teams, and typically plays a double elimination format. However, following the ASAA announcement, the final round of games on Saturday, March 14, which pitted teams with one loss in a battle for runner-up berths at state, were cancelled.

The Nenana girls, who placed second at 2A State last year, won the conference championship matchup on 6:30 p.m. Friday, March 13; and the Glennallen boys topped Cordova in the 8 p.m. boys title game that followed.

Normally, Cordova would have had a chance to advance to state by battling back through the consolation bracket on Saturday. In fact, that is how the Wolverines made it to state last year.

But in 2020, a year of pandemic madness on a global scale, no one will be playing basketball in front of large crowds for some time.

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Dick Shellhorn, author, reporter, ref and grandpa, can be reached at shorn@gci.net. Shellhorn was born and raised in Cordova, Alaska, and has lived there his entire life. He has been writing sports stories for the Cordova Times for over 40 years. In his Cordova Chronicles features, he writes about the history and characters of this Alaska town. Alaska Press Club awarded Shellhorn first place for Best Humor column in 2016 and third place in 2017.