A week that began with raucous crowds at the boys basketball division championships ended with quiet gyms and rinks around the state.
The rapidly-moving response to the coronavirus put Rhode Island Interscholastic League winter sports on a rollercoaster. The final stop came Friday, when mandated school closures forced the league to cancel the remainder of its winter tournaments. The move impacted girls and boys basketball state tournaments, Division I and Division II boys hockey title series, and the cheerleading state championship.
Such a decision would have seemed unheard of on March 8. There was an awareness of the virus, and it had already made an impact on tournaments, due to the positive tests at St. Raphael Academy. The Saints forfeited in the Division I girls basketball tournament after their quarterfinal game was initially delayed. The boys hockey co-op team that includes St. Raphael, Providence Country Day and Wheeler also forfeited its Division II quarterfinal series against South Kingstown.
Beyond a few adjustments to schedules, though, the games went on. There was barely an empty seat for the division championships at the Vincent A. Cullen Field House at the Community of College of Rhode Island. With the bleachers full, some fans watched the final game of the day – the Division I final between North Kingstown and Bishop Hendricken – from the upstairs walkways overlooking the court.
Action continued Monday and Tuesday, with semifinal hockey series concluding and the Division I girls basketball championship played Tuesday night. The South Kingstown hockey team, which won its D-II semifinal series, couldn’t wait for what was next. The Rebel girls basketball team, victorious in the D-I title game, was primed for another run in the state tournament.
But while the ball was bouncing in the girls basketball title game, the first hints of the impact to come had already popped up. Earlier Tuesday, Brown University’s Meehan Auditorium became unavailable for hockey championships due to a school policy on the coronavirus. The Ivy League also canceled its basketball tournament, and Tuesday afternoon, Connecticut’s high school sports governing body announced the cancellation of the remainder of its winter sports season.
Wednesday brought significant new developments in the sports world at large. The NCAA announced that its basketball tournaments would be played without fans, and conferences followed suit. The NBA suspended its season. On Thursday morning, conference tournaments were canceled, one after another. That afternoon, the NCAA men’s and women’s tournaments were also canceled. And in a stunning move, the NCAA also put a stop to spring sports.
The RIIL kept a close watch on the national decisions, as well as what was coming from the National Federation of State High School Associations and its members. League leadership put a priority on finishing tournaments and adjusted accordingly, announcing a no spectator policy for the basketball final four and hockey finals. But on Friday, with directives to close schools, there were no options left.
A statement from the league read, “As a result of [Friday’s] joint announcement by Governor Gina Raimondo and the Rhode Island Department of Health advising Rhode Islanders to stay home and avoid all non-essential crowds and also moving up the previously-scheduled April break for K-12 schools to next week, the Rhode Island Interscholastic League regrettably has cancelled all remaining winter tournaments, including contests scheduled for today. The RIIL made every effort to keep the tournaments going and to give the student-athletes an opportunity to finish out their winter seasons. However, the league in conjunction with the Principals’ Committee on Athletics has determined that is not possible given the extenuating circumstances created by the COVID-19 health crisis.”
The league also announced that spring sports practices, which were due to begin Monday, would be delayed indefinitely.