The nightmare scenario has become reality.
Late Thursday evening, the Tennessee Secondary Schools Athletic Association (TSSAA) suspended their state girls and boys basketball tournaments, putting the future of the Stone Memorial Lady Panthers’ state tournament run in jeopardy.
“We’re stunned,” said SMHS head coach Mike Buck in the moments after the suspension. “This is a brand new world. Nobody has ever seen this, where you don’t get to finish what you started.
“The girls are heartbroken; it’s a tough deal. It’s a game, but it’s something that they’ve put a lot of themselves into. I hate that for a lot of people on a lot of levels.”
“It’s terrible,” said SMHS senior Emma Capps. “We’ve worked so hard this year, with spring and fall conditioning and practices. We’ve grown so close as a team and we want to play so bad. We’ve earned the right to be where we are, and I just really wish we could play. No matter the outcome, it’s the uncertainty that’s hurting.”
The TSSAA board of directors meets Tuesday night to decide the fate of the tournaments, though all signs point to the cancellation of both.
“We’re all in shock,” said Lady Panther senior Chloe Roark. “It doesn’t feel real. We were looking forward to this, but we’re just going to have to deal with it. It will make us stronger.”
On the girls side, Stone Memorial won its quarterfinal matchup with Science Hill 61-45 on Wednesday morning, setting up a semifinal game with Whitehaven for Friday at 10 a.m.
Wednesday night, the TSSAA announced that beginning Friday the tournament would feature limited attendance. By Thursday, the tournament had been suspended.
This news was not taken lightly by the Lady Panthers, who were at dinner Thursday evening when coach Buck delivered the news.
“We were sitting eating dinner, and I could just tell by the look on his face,” Capps said. “It took us all a minute, and we all came to tears. We tried to laugh, but the night ended in a lot of tears.”
“I got a call from Kelly (Smith), and went and told the girls,” Buck said. “With everything that had gone on, it’s not completely surprising. We’re directly impacted by these decisions now.”
Though a complete cancelation seems inevitable, the Lady Panthers, along other state tournament programs across the state, have a consistent message for TSSAA: let us play.
“Please let us play,” Capps said, when asked about a message to TSSAA. “Not just us; there’s 12 other teams that have worked so hard for this moment. We’d devoted so much of our life to this.
“Even if we’re playing with no fans and it’s just the 10 girls on the court and our coaches, let us play,” Capps added.
Roark’s message echoed her fellow senior’s feelings: “Let us play,” she said. “We’d do anything just to play one or two more games.”