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HOT SPRINGS -- The reaction from several coaches surrounding the Arkansas Activities Association's decision to postpone the remaining high school state basketball championship games because of coronavirus concerns ranged from disappointment to sadness, understanding to sympathy.

The one thing they all agreed upon was that safety comes first.

"We certainly realize safety is the key in all of it," said Little Rock Central Coach Brian Ross, whose Tigers were set to play 6A-Central rival Conway on Saturday evening for the Class 6A boys title. "We understand the why behind it, but there's definitely a little bit of an empty feeling inside."

The Class 1A and Class 2A boys and girls finals were completed Thursday as scheduled, but with schools and universities across the country opting to either cancel or suspend many of their athletic events, the AAA followed suit and issued a news release shortly after Nevada's victory over Izard County during the early session.

[CORONAVIRUS: Click here for our complete coverage » arkansasonline.com/coronavirus]

"After speaking with the Arkansas Department of Health, Arkansas Department of Education, and the Governor's office, we have made the difficult decision to postpone the rest of the Basketball Finals," Lance Taylor, executive director of the AAA, said in the statement. "Our number one priority will always be the safety of our student athletes, coaches, officials, and fans."

The release, which affects the Class 3A, 4A, 5A and 6A title games, also stated that the decision will be upheld until further notice, meaning a final resolution as to when or if the affected eight games will be completed has yet to be determined.

Both Fayetteville girls Coach Vic Rimmer and Bentonville girls Coach Tom Halbmaier said they had a tough time relaying the AAA's verdict to their players. The two schools were set to play for the Class 6A girls title Saturday.

"I know this is the right thing to do, no question about it," Rimmer said. "But it was absolutely crushing to look into those kids' eyes and tell them the games were canceled. We cried. I cried like a baby.

"Win or lose, you want the opportunity to walk into that locker room a final time and meet with the team after all they've been through. Now, we don't get that closure."

Halbmaier, whose Lady Tigers were looking to win their first state title after losing last year's final on a last-second shot to Fort Smith Northside, echoed Rimmer's words.

"I think [AAA] made the right call about it," he explained. "There's no easy way to do this, and this doesn't feel good. These girls are disappointed because they have worked so hard and are not getting the opportunity to be on the big stage this weekend.

"It was hard to look them in the eyes and tell them what was happening."

The decision was especially tough for Ross and his Tigers. Central's 21-year championship drought was the longest of any of the eight teams affected by the suspension. Ross mentioned that his team already had left practice when he saw the statement from the AAA.

"I sent them all a text about what was put out and told them I'd get back to them later if I got any more information," he said. "We're disappointed right now, though. You hope there's a time where we can make up the games, but we're not sure about what the plans are."

Mills Coach Raymond Cooper said he's not sure what to think about the situation simply because it's unprecedented. The Comets were set to face defending Class 4A champion Magnolia today in a rematch of last year's final that the Panthers won 78-76 in overtime.

"This is uncharted waters," Cooper explained. "Is real difficult to know how to feel because I know this is beyond anyone's control. So we will just wait until we hear something, and then get ready to play."

The release also stated that fans who purchased tickets for today's and Saturday's games will be given full refunds. For those who bought tickets online, refunds will be returned automatically. Those who purchased tickets at participating schools will have to contact the office from which they were bought.

Sports on 03/13/2020

Print Headline: AAA postpones leftover title games

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