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Softball players from Station Camp and Stewarts Creek gather for a prayer but avoid holding hands after a Commando Classic game in early March. 

The TSSAA tried to save the high school state basketball tournaments and Spring Fling for as long as possible.

Instead of immediately canceling both events amid the COVID-19 pandemic, TSSAA Executive Director Bernard Childress left the door open for games to resume in early or mid-May.

Higher powers have ended those tentative plans. Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee announced Wednesday afternoon that schools should stay closed for the rest of the 2019-20 academic year.

“In order to keep every Tennessean safe during this pandemic, I am recommending that schools remain closed through the end of this school year,” Lee said in a tweet. “We’re working with (the Tennessee Department of Education) and local leaders to ensure there is flexibility for districts to complete critical year-end activities.”

No school means no sports. The TSSAA followed with a statement officially cancelling its remaining 2019-20 events, including the state basketball tournaments and Spring Fling.

“This is an unprecedented time across our state and country, and we do not make this decision lightly,” the release read. “We thank all of the participants, their coaches, administrators, parents, and everyone else who has dedicated a tremendous amount of time, passion, and effort to high school athletics, especially these affected events.”

In a TSSAA Board of Control conference call on March 17, Childress stopped short of canceling the state basketball tournaments and Spring Fling, opting to wait for more information before making an official decision.

“I don’t think we’re at that point,” Childress said at the time. “This is such an unknown that we’re not at the point where we say we’re going to give up on (the postseason tournaments)… even if we’re creating a pipe dream.

“It at least lets those student athletes know that we didn’t give up. We tried everything that we could.”

The girls state basketball tournament was in progress when the TSSAA halted action on March 12. The boys state basketball tournaments never tipped off, and spring sports teams were less than two weeks into their respective regular seasons.

The cancellation of Spring Fling effectively ends the baseball, boys soccer, softball, tennis and track and field seasons and the high school careers of all senior spring sports athletes.

“To our senior participants - we thank you for everything you have done for your schools and communities and wish you the very best in your bright futures,” the TSSAA said. “This is difficult, but the lessons you’ve learned and friendships you’ve made through high school activities will last your lifetime.”

The TSSAA said it would provide member schools with information regarding summer athletic activities soon.

Basketball season ends unceremoniously for East Robertson

East Robertson boys basketball qualified for its first state tournament since 2006 by defeating West Carroll 50-43 on Monday, March 9 in a Class A sectional.

However, the Indians (23-10) and their seven seniors never got a chance to play Oneida in the quarterfinal round. The coronavirus pandemic wiped out that opportunity.

“The writing was on the wall for a long time, but part of you still wants to hold out hope to be able to finish,” coach Kurt Caton said. “It is heartbreaking to think about the seniors and not being able to see them have closure to their season.”

The outgoing group includes Jesse Ayers, Tyler Ayers, Nelson Brown, Daltyn Hammonds, Drake Knight, Darion Shannon and Scott Wiggins. Shannon (17.8 points per game) was named to the All-Robertson County First Team, while Hammonds (10.2 points per game) took Second Team honors.

“They are a great group of young men,” Caton added. “The growth they showed from early June in summer camps to their final game in the sectional at home was amazing.

“I am proud of what our team has accomplished, and it will be an unforgettable season. I hope the guys cherish the time they had together and remember the great things they did as the East Robertson basketball team.”

The Indians have qualified for 12 state tournaments in program history. East Robertson won Class A titles in 1983, 1987, 1988 and 1989 and finished as the runner-up in 1992.

This year’s team won 15 of their final 16 games. That included a District 9-A tournament championship victory over Houston County on Feb. 21 and a Region 5-A tournament championship win over Richland on March 5.

Although the Indians lose three starters in Hammonds, Shannon and Wiggins, 2019-20 Robertson County Player of the Year Taylor Groves, a sophomore guard, and junior starting guard Alex Patterson both return next season.

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