Indiana high school fall sports championships were conducted with very little interruption, just a few months after scholastic sports returned to the Hoosier state following a near four-month hiatus due to COVID-19. There were even attendance records broken or nearly broken across many sports at the state championships.
Winter sports have been a much bigger challenge, for multiple reasons, and while the Indiana High School Athletic Association has directed its member schools to seek guidance from their local health departments on how to best operate athletic practices and events, the IHSAA is prepared to hold each of its winter sports championships with as much normalcy as possible.
“Winter has not been perfect, it has created challenges, and creates situations that constantly change,” first-year IHSAA Commissioner Paul Neidig said on Tuesday in a joint interview with the Journal Review and Crawfordsville radio on the daily 5 o’clock report on WCDQ 106.3.
The move to indoor sports coincided with a spike in Indiana’s overall positivity rate and increase in COVID-19 cases. The majority of schools across the state have been impacted by COVID-19, including quarantined players and coaches, game postponements, and a reduced number of fans. Since winter sports started, each of the six Montgomery County basketball teams have had at least one instance where games have been postponed due to multiple players or an entire team being in quarantine. Attendance has been limited at all local sporting events since November.
The reality though is, student athletes across the state are continuing to have the opportunity to play, and the IHSAA feels it’s necessary to give them the chance at competing for tournament titles.
“We are still playing,” Neidig said. “Kids are still putting a uniform on that has their school name on it and it is special to give those students that opportunity.”
The girls’ basketball tournament starts next week. Neidig said some tournament locations have changed to best accommodate teams and fans based on local guidelines and COVID-19 numbers. The girls’ state tournament will conclude with four state finals games on Saturday, Feb. 27 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. The IHSAA has not yet made a decision on the status of fans and a limit on attendance. Neidig says the situation remains fluid, citing the decision to allow 3,500 fans per team at the football state finals was not made until 48 hours prior to the first game.
The wrestling state finals will be held on Friday and Saturday Feb. 19 and 20 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, with some minor changes. Friday, which features 224 wrestlers spanned across 14 weight classes, will have a split session, while Saturday’s placement rounds will look much like previous years. Fan attendance at this time is still unknown.
The IHSAA girls’ and boys’ swim state finals which are scheduled for the second and fourth weekends in February at the IUPUI Natatorium, will have split sessions on Friday for the prelims, and at this time will likely be held without fans.
COVID-19 hit Indiana last March between the sectional and regional round of the boys’ basketball state tournament — making the 2021 tourney that much more signifigant. The tournament is set to begin on Tuesday, March 2 with the sectional round, but will not conclude until Saturday, April 3. Once the NCAA moved the entire Division I basketball tournament to the Indianapolis area, Bankers Life Fieldhouse became occupied on the original high school state finals date of Saturday, March 27.
Neidig said the IHSAA discussed postponing the tournament altogether by a week or moving the state finals location, but ultimately decided to just delay the four state finals games by a week following the semi-state round, which will still take place on March 20.
“At the end of the day, we have a phenomenal partner here in Indiana with the Pacers, Fever, and Bankers Life Fieldouse,” he said. “Bankers Life Fieldhouse in the premier basketball venue in the country, and we didn’t want to take that oppportunity away from the students athletes and give them that experience. We felt like it was the most important thing.”