This week one year ago, hardly anyone in the high school sporting world was thinking about the Coronavirus, more specifically, COVID-19. Sure, it was something that we had all heard about on the news, specifically the outbreak in Wuhan, China. However, this novel virus, regardless of how dangerous it may be, was far from the forefront of our consciousness at the time.
The North Carolina High School Athletic Association has crowned State Champions in Men’s Basketball every year since 1915. That year, in Chapel Hill’s Bynum Gym, Winston-Salem beat Raleigh 21-13 to win the first NCHSAA Basketball State Championship. In each subsequent year, through wars, energy crises, depressions, and years of plenty the NCHSAA has managed to contest at least one State Championship Game in Men’s Basketball, adding Women’s Basketball State Championships in 1972 when North Pitt beat West Montgomery 58-34.
That all changed in 2020.
Coming off an exceptional Regional Finals weekend, the NCHSAA Staff was feverishly preparing to host another year of State Championship Games in the Dean E. Smith Center and Reynolds Coliseum. This hectic week for the Association staff is an annual tradition dating back to 1986 when the championships moved to the Smith Center and Carmichael Arena, with Reynolds Coliseum joining the mix in 2004.
To many on the Association staff, this week annually feels like our “Super Bowl.” We are, after all, the home of some of the best high school basketball in the nation. Our State Championships have served as a big stage for some of the game’s greatest players over the years. Little kids growing up all across the Tar Heel State dream of suiting up and stepping onto the floor at the Smith Center or Reynolds Coliseum. These games are a big deal, not just for the Association and its member schools, but for communities all across the state.
Monday was simply a preparation day for the staff. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary in the office. Busy, but nothing unusual for the championship week. The copier frantically churned out copies of media notes, team notebooks and information packets for the Tuesday morning press conference and information session. Staff scrambled about packing up backdrops, Gatorade Coolers and game balls for the teams to distribute the next morning.
Tuesday morning is the start of the show. Press Conference and Information Session Day. The day all 16 teams converge on one site to go over last-minute information they need to know and run through the car wash of media interviews that await each Regional Champion Coach.
There is always a buzz around this event. This year is no different in that regard. Some coaches and athletic directors are nervous about the session, their minds pulled in a million different directions as they absorb the plethora of information and timelines, things they will need to know for Saturday to go off smoothly.
Some coaches and athletic directors are cool and calm, they have been here before, some frequently, and they are used to the messages, the hustle prior to a State Championship, the well-wishers, the interview requests, the hype. I would never think it becomes “old hat” to these coaches, but generally, it is pretty easy to pick out the veterans.
By 1:00 p.m. the Grand Ballroom at the DoubleTree by Hilton in RTP clears out completely. Coaches are on their way back to their schools, scrambling to arrive in time for practice. Media have filed their stories and are driving back to the office, grabbing a bite to eat on the way while game-planning their preview stories and angles on the upcoming games of local interest.
The NCHSAA Staff almost always takes a deep breath when the Press Conference ends. Coming off of a weekend of 16 Regional Championships at four sites across the state and pushing straight into hard preparations for game operations and the press conference can be taxing. This year was no different. The mood in the office on Tuesday afternoon after the press conference is similar to an audible exhale. We have made it. The games are next.
No one in the office, maybe not even anyone in the state of North Carolina, could have predicted the events that would transpire over the next 48-72 hours.
Wednesday was a fairly typical morning in the Association offices. Well, as normal as ACC Tournament Week is in any sports-minded office across the Tar Heel State. Typically, during the ACC Tournament, many staff will take lunch breaks together, sitting in the Board room watching the games. They return to their offices and keep an eye on the games with tablets and TV Screens in their offices, while tying up loose ends to prepare for the State Championships and other upcoming sports.
These things all happen as usual. However, this year, there is conversation on the broadcasts about COVID-19, the staff has some discussions about it too. No one is really all that concerned, seemingly, expecting things to continue down the pre-ordained path towards a busy Championship Saturday.
Wednesday night as college basketball tournaments around the country go on, teams and leagues mull what may happen if COVID-19 gets into locker rooms and arenas? Will fans be allowed? Will teams be able to play?
Wednesday night, something else happens. The Utah Jazz and the Oklahoma City Thunder NBA game is being delayed for an unknown reason. The news came out soon enough. Rudy Gobert, a player for the Jazz, has tested positive. Game postponed. Within a very short period of time, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver and the league announced they have suspended the season and will use the break in play to determine how to move forward.
Meanwhile, College Basketball Conference Tournaments across the country continue on, though nearly every one of those events is being overshadowed in the telecasts by discussions of the tremendous events taking place in Oklahoma City and the NBA offices. Some conferences stop their tournaments. Behind the scenes of the remaining conference tournaments, conference presidents and athletic directors are mulling their next steps. As university chancellors and presidents become involved, the impact to the NCHSAA State Championships begins to be felt.
On Wednesday night, the NCHSAA Sports Department staff is working late, sitting in Commissioner Que Tucker’s office on the phone with University administrators at UNC and NC State, the host sites for the 2020 Championships. The NCHSAA Staff has just been informed that spectator and media attendance at the 2020 Basketball State Championships will be severely limited.
First it will be 100 fans and limited media. Then it is 35 per team. Team personnel and game administration like officials, scorer’s table personnel, media and Association staff workers will be limited to 25 per venue. Tra Waters, Chiquana Dancy, and Commissioner Tucker work late into the night at 222 Finley Golf Course Road evaluating the feasibility of pulling off the staffing and plans on how to notify all of the teams and individuals involved in the Championships. Thursday comes.
As the daylight breaks at the Association offices, staff trudge into the building, many unaware of the late-night three of our co-workers spent at the office dealing with a major change in plans for Saturday. The Commissioner and Sports Department has just gotten off of a conference call with all participating schools in the State Championships. They’ve been informed of their limited number of tickets, told that information will be coming to them about how to access the facility, new information for the limited spectators that will be allowed to attend.
At 8:30, there is a staff meeting. The Commissioner informs the full staff of the changes to the plan for Saturday. People are shocked, sad. This year will no doubt be different.
As the media liaison for the NCHSAA, I frantically begin scrambling to put together a coverage plan for both facilities. How can the nearly 200 media that typically cover the NCHSAA Basketball Championship get the content that they typically need from as few personnel as possible? We may be allowed three individuals per site for media. Can they all provide every outlet in the state what they need? All the details of pulling this off are a confusing blurry mess in my mind as I start to put my thoughts on paper.
As I’ve made preparations for a pool photographer at each site, a pool reporter at each site and attempted to work out video highlight provision over the course of two hours, I headed out to pick up some lunch. When I get back, just some 15 minutes later, the Commissioner’s door is closed. Sports department staff are all in there. Not good.
I headed to my desk to sit down and eat my sandwich. I pull out my iPad and flip on the ACC Tournament. Well … it is supposed to be the ACC Tournament. There will be no tournament this year. Instead, it is the ACC Trophy Presentation in a nearly empty Greensboro Coliseum. Surreal. The Commissioner’s door opens, and an email goes to the staff for a Staff meeting, immediately.
We all walk down to the Commissioner’s office and that is when the news hits. There will be no NCHSAA Basketball State Championships this weekend. The Association has been told that there will be no large events on campus at UNC or NC State. Nowhere to play, means the games have to be postponed. Unfathomable just 48 hours ago.
As the next week rolls on, Governor Roy Cooper closes all schools across the state to in-person learning. Spring sports are placed on pause. People are hopeful that things will return to normal soon. The NCHSAA office closes to in-person work. March 17th is our last day in the office for March. We’re hopeful to be back in the office in two or three weeks. Everyone is hopeful the Basketball Championships and spring sports will be played, too.
The days and weeks drug on, executive orders and closures of schools were extended. Office closures were extended too. We all knew someone who has been infected with the virus at some point. There is a story of a friend’s family member who didn’t make it. The stories on the news talk about the horror scenes at hospitals in New York and California. We heard about COVID cases across the state. Number rose. Months fell by the wayside.
Eventually, when May rolled around, regardless of the true optimism we all held going into the pause of athletics, the NCHSAA Board of Directors and Staff realized there will be no restart to spring sports or a conclusion to the Basketball playoffs. During their Spring Meeting, held virtually for the first time in the Association’s 107-year history, the Board of Directors voted to recognize the regional champions for 2020 Basketball as Co-State Champions. Another Association first. The first time since 1915 that no State Championship Basketball Game is played in the Old North State.
These are the Co-Champions of NCHSAA Basketball in 2020
2020 1A Women’s Basketball State Champions
Murphy Bulldogs | 30-0 (12-0) | Western Regional Champion, Big Smoky Mountain 1A Champion
Team: #3 Kaiya Pickens; #10 Taylor Phillips; #11 Torin Rogers; #14 Leah Moses; #21 Calista Adams; #22 Kennedy Colbert-Carr; #23 Mia Wilson; #25 Sarah Pullium; #30 Erika Sena; #32 Amber Martin; #35 Sydni Addison
Murphy was poised to appear in the state championship game for the fourth time in program history. They had won two of their previous three trips, earning 1A State Championships in 1995 & 1997.
Weldon Chargers | 27-1 (13-0) | Eastern Regional Champion, Tar Roanoke 1A Champion
Team: #1 Taniyah Washington; #2 Tecara Ashe; #3 Mckenzie Brickhouse; #13 Samaria Mcgee; #14 Shayla Boone; #15 Angel Solomon; #20 Sparkle Ransom; #23 Nau’tika Northington; #25 Skylah Travis; #34 Sameylah Sledge; #35 Ashunti Mungin; #44 Tiquajah Pierce
Weldon had appeared in two prior state championship games but were still looking for their program’s first state title.
2020 2A Women’s Basketball State Champions
Farmville Central Jaguars | 25-3 (10-0) | Eastern Regional Champions, Eastern Plains 2A Champions
Team: #2 Kalyn Baker; #4 Jahnyah Willoughby; #10 Amiya Joyner; #11 Rashya Speight; #12 Lauryn Pitt; #14 Janisja Carmon; #15 Kamajha Taylor; #20 Destiny May; #21 Kamiyah Wooten; #22 Janiya Foskey; #24 Hannah Randolph; #30 Ja’shyrah Carmon
The Jaguars would have made their sixth appearance in the state championships having won the program’s only title in the 2A championship of 2006.
Newton-Conover Red Devils | 28-2 (14-0) | Western Regional Champions, South Fork 2A Champions
Team: #10 Cassidy Geddes; #12 Monet Wilson; #14 Aalia Walton; #20 Mia Powell; #22 Mackenzie Johnson; #24 Lexi Martin; #30 Jahlea Peters; #33 Grace Loftin; #34 Nalace Duncan; #40 Jaelyn Hayes; #42 Hannah Watkins; #44 Lizzy Duncan; #52 Emma Fox; #54 Chyna Cornwell
The Red Devils were appearing in their third state championship game and their first trip back to the final game since they defeated Farmville Central in 1992 winning the program’s only previous championship.
2020 3A Women’s Basketball State Champions
E.E. Smith Golden Bulls | 31-1 (16-0) | Eastern Regional Champions, Patriot Athletic 3A/4A Champions
Team: #10 Tamia Morris; #12 Amiyah Hunt; #14 Abraonna Williams; #21 Amiah Savage; #22 Kendall Macauley; #24 Jordan Everett; #30 Ke’Onna Bryant; #32 Decaris Ray; #34 Jada Priebe; #40 Miya Giles-Jones; #42 Keshiana Murphy; #44 Jalea McMillian; #50 Samara Britt; #52 Maliyah Britt; #54 Saniyah Diamond
The Golden Bulls were scheduled to make their program’s first appearance in an NCHSAA State Championship Game after knocking off Jacksonville in the Regional Finals.
Southeast Guilford Falcons | 30-1 (12-0) | Western Regional Champions, Mid-Piedmont 3A Champions
Team: #3 Jessica Hopkins; #5 Kennedi Simmons; #10 Millayna Redd; #13 Sydney Roberts; #21 Makayla Poole; #22 Mykensie Harris; #23 Gabby McGough; #24 Raven Preston; #25 Nyree Bell; #30 Mya Lewis; #35 Shunte Bethea
The Falcons were set to make their second all-time appearance in an NCHSAA State Championship Game after beating Cuthbertson to win the 3A title in 2019.
2020 4A Women’s Basketball State Champions
Southeast Raleigh Bulldogs | 27-1 (12-0) | Eastern Regional Champions, Cap 7 4A Champions
Team: #1 Bobbi Smith; #5 Zaniyah Holland; #10 Skylar Quillet; #11 De’Ja Morgan; #23 Morgan Graham; #25 Jamia Hazell; #31 Anya Poole; #33 Mikayla Harris; #35 Destini Abramson-Lee; #40 Tamsi Echendu
The Bulldogs were slated for their seventh appearance in an NCHSAA State Championship Game and looking for their program’s second state title.
Z.B. Vance Cougars | 26-5 (12-2) | Western Regional Champions, I-Meck 4A Co-Champions
Team: #1 Leah Barringer; #2 M’Kaylah Marshall; #3 Thandolwenkosi Nkala; #11 Lakatie Piggee; #15 Megan Jackson; #20 Kaia Barringer; #22 Kyanna Morgan; #23 Tanajah Hayes; #32 Kaiyah Brown; #33 Trinity Moreland; #44 Amhyia Moreland
The Cougars reached the State Title Game for the first time since 2003, and second time in program history. They were seeking their first championship.
2020 1A Men’s Basketball State Champions
Henderson Collegiate Pride | 26-10 (15-1) | Eastern Regional Champions, North Central 1A Champions
Team: #0 JaQuaveon Venable; #1 Omahj Evans; #2 TJ Ragland; #3 Kamron Somerville; #4 Nick Green; #5 Kalib Mathews; #10 Javonte Waverly; #11 Akhiris Holden; #12 Khris Franklin; #13 Davon Allen; #15 Kaleb Royster; #23 Jalen Burchett; #32 Jashea Hart; #34 Marquise Hargrove; #35 Charles Kiah; Jarrod Small; Niko Weaver; Jaedon Whittaker
The Pride were scheduled to appear in the NCHSAA State Championship Game for the second year in a row and second-time all-time. They were seeking the program’s first state championship.
Winston-Salem Prep Phoenix | 22-8 (9-1) | Western Regional Champions, Northwest 1A Champions
Team: #0 Troy Mills; #1 Dantae Watson; #2 Stephen Minor; #3 Tresean Stewart; #4 Tim Davis; #5 Cam Sanderson; #10 Zaire Patterson; #11 Jayden Penn; #14 Anthony Sellars; #15 Jahon Foster; #21 Tyler Ledwell; #22 DeAngelo Lavalais; #23 Jermaine Myers
The Phoenix were slated for the programs’ eighth state championship game, having won five previous appearances, including a three-peat from 2012-2014.
2020 2A Men’s Basketball State Champions
Farmville Central Jaguars | 29-2 (10-0) | Eastern Regional Champions, Eastern Plains 2A Champions
Team: #1 Terquavion Smith; #2 Dantavious Short; #3 Rashae Owens; #5 Justin Wright; #10 Coda Foskey; #11 Samage Teel; #12 Tay Suggs; #14 Jah Short; #21 Leontae Moye; #23 Jy’Quez Jernigan; #24 Derrick Cox; #32 Nate Harris; #33 Jayden Pitt
The Jaguars would have played in their seventh state championship game, having won five of their previous appearances including the 2019 2A title over Forest Hills.
Shelby Golden Lions | 26-3 (12-0) | Western Regional Champions, Southwestern 2A Champions
Team: #2 Elijah Borders; #3 Deshuan Christopher; #4 Jack Hollifield; #5 Isaiah Bess; #11 Ricky McCluney; #12 JaHari Mitchell; #14 Jimmy Whisnant; #15 Stephon Archie; #20 Omar Phillps; #21 Tyler Arrington; #22 Donye Fuller; #23 Simeon Davis; #24 Torrin Arrington; #25 Jacari Shell; #32 Deshawn Jones; #33 JaKeith Hamliton; #44 Demario Allen
The Golden Lions were to appear in the NCHSAA State Championship Game for the fourth time in program history, having won their only NCHSAA State Championship in 2009.
2020 3A Men’s Basketball State Champions
Freedom Patriots | 29-1 (11-1) | Western Regional Champions, Northwestern 3A/4A Champions
Team: #1 Kason Ledford; #2 Quentin Rice; #3 Jayden Birchfield; #4 Saiveon Pitman; #5 Makhi Harris; #10 Jayden Moore; #11 Ben Tolbert; #12 Keyvon Hemphill; #14 Drew Costello; #15 Bradley Davis; #21 Nick Johnson; #22 Bryce Griffith; #23 James Freeman; #24 Que Garner; #33 Braeden Lackey
The Patriots were on the way to their fourth NCHSAA State Championship Game appearance, having won all three previous trips to the final game, including most recently in 2014.
Westover Wolverines | 30-0 (16-0) | Eastern Regional Champions, Patriot Athletic 3A/4A Champions
Team: #1 Ma’nas Drummond; #2 Isaiah Bridges; #3 D’marco Dunn; #4 Terrez Fryer; #5 Darius Jewell; #10 Mckiyah Tarver; #12 Keyshawn Lindsey; #15 Joshua Reese; #20 Kaivaughn Spence; #21 Elijah Hayes; #23 Traymond Willis-Shaw; #24 Marvin Barnes; #33 Ruben Rivera
The Wolverines were on target to appear in the State Championship Game for the second time in program history and the first time since falling in overtime in 2005 to North Mecklenburg.
2020 4A Men’s Basketball State Champions
Lumberton Pirates | 26-5 (11-3) | Eastern Regional Champions, Second in Sandhills 4A
Team: #2 Tyler Maidene; #5 Jordan Mcneill; #10 Jadarian Chatman; #12 Charlie Miller; #14 Shaleek Baker; #15 JB Brockington; #20 Jacob Hammonds; #21 Matt Locklear; #22 Dwayne Davis; #23 Jamel Alford; #24 Cobe Oxendine; #34 Trey Lewis; #35 Kenston Skipper; #40 Saavyon Melvin; #50 Michael Todd; James Moore; Joshua Smith
The Pirates were scheduled to appear in the NCHSAA State Championship Game for the first time in program history after knocking off conference rivals Pinecrest in the Regional Finals.
North Mecklenburg Vikings | 30-1 (14-0) | Western Regional Champions, I-Meck 4A Champions
Team: #3 Trayden Williams; #10 Shamann Artis; #12 Tristan Maxwell; #15 Marcus Farley; #20 Tony Waters; #22 Jordan Crawford; #24 Cam Gates; #25 Chris Ford; #32 Tristan Lexander; #33 Davion Cunningham; #33 Davion Cunningham; #34 Joshua Mcclary; #40 Avery Borden; #42 Donovan Hagler; #50 Jeremy Gregory
The Vikings were slated for their fourth appearance in an NCHSAA State Championship Game and won their only previous title in 2005, knocking off Westover in overtime.