March Madness gained a whole new definition on Wednesday, when a day of coronavirus chaos was capped with the NCAA’s announcement that its upcoming tournaments would be played without customers.
Thus, from First Four in Dayton next week to the Final Four in Atlanta, the Big Dance of 2020 will be a minuet.
At the same time the NCAA was taking this astounding action, Minnesota’s four-class girls’ basketball tournament was going on as scheduled, and no complaints were overheard.
There were a dozen games played in the two adjacent arenas on the University of Minnesota campus: Williams Arena and the pavilion that is its baby sister.
The action started at 10 a.m. with Hopkins and its superstar, Paige Bueckers, playing Cambridge-Isanti in the Class 4A opener in the Barn, and with DeLaSalle vs. Hermantown in Class 3A in the Pav.
It was a cruise for both of the defending champions, Hopkins 85-55 and DeLaSalle 85-52, and then came Stillwater-Park Center in the Barn and Simley-Holy Angels next door.
Lucy Menssen and Ryann Eddy, a pair of 15-year-old basketball players from Northfield, had arrived early to watch Bueckers. What was the scouting report?
“She was great, of course,” Eddy said.
Menssen nodded and said: “I met her once. She’s such a nice person.”
There were several thousand people in the arena around noon. No concern about the virus?
“It’s a new flu, and we don’t know how to deal with it,” Menssen said. “So far in Minnesota, and in our age group, it doesn’t seem bad enough to stay away from a basketball game.”
Erica Fultz and Tom McKay were sitting a few rows away. Mary Fultz, Erica’s daughter, is a 6-1 senior post player for Stillwater. Fultz is going to Division II Missouri Western, and 6-2 Liza Karlen is headed for Marquette.
Asked about the virus threat, Erica said: “I try not to get all hyped up about it. I think we have to enjoy these opportunities, to watch our kids in sports.”
Final: Stillwater 82, Park Center 52.
Roger Hansegard coached high school basketball — first boys, then girls — for 43 years. He is accompanied to the girls’ tournament by his wife, Mary.
Roger is a septuagenarian. Those of us in that category are alleged to be at advanced risk to become active participants in this pandemic. When that was mentioned, Roger shrugged.
“We have a little bottle of hand sanitizer,” Mary said. “That’s our precaution. I tried to buy a larger one, but they’re all gone.”
Rick Baker from Big Lake was in the officiating crew for Hopkins-Cambridge. He has been working five games weekly for local colleges and high schools, boys’ and girls’, as the coronavirus scare has turned into pandemonium.
All those arenas — any second thoughts?
“Not at all; I’m doing something I love,” Baker said. “I never think about the virus when I’m in an arena. I’m concentrating on working a good game.”
Next door, the Pavilion crowd for Simley and Holy Angels included Amelia Santaniello and Frank Vascellaro, the married and popular news team for WCCO-TV. Daughter Francesca Vascellaro is a fine 6-foot junior guard for Holy Angels.
Amelia and Frank suffered a bit as Holy Angels took a 70-62 loss to a hard-nosed Simley team.
The parents watched the game in the tight confines of cheering fans, went home for a time, and then headed to Channel 4 for the 10 p.m. newscast — where the lead story was to be the newest details in Minnesota’s and the nation’s challenge with coronavirus.
“There is definitely a disconnect between being among fans and being fully involved in a game; about how exciting it is for our team to be in the state tournament,” Santaniello said. “And then, with today a fourth Minnesota case with the virus, you know that’s the top story you’re going to be detailing to viewers.
“Then, after the game, we find out the U of M isn’t going to have classes. That’s big. That’s our school.
“We just don’t know, but we also have to live our lives, don’t we?”
That was the unanimous opinion among the dozen or so girls’ basketball attendees who were engaged in conversation. Dominant as the virus threat might have become, there also will be Paige vs. Stillwater (hopefully) in the semis at 6 p.m. Thursday, and that should be good.