A season cut short: Local playoff basketball teams react to WIAA tournament cancellations

Yesterday was an unprecedented day in the world of sports.

Collegiate and professional sports organizations canceled or postponed events, and the WIAA decided at the end of the night that they would cancel the remaining winter basketball tournaments.

But that came after numerous girls state and boys sectional games had already been played in front of limited fans…It came after local programs had gotten one step closer to achieving their ultimate goals.

For our local seniors, last night was an abrupt end to their high school careers. And for all the teams who still had something to play for, today is a harsh reality. News 8 Now Sports spoke with several local teams who were still standing in their respective tournaments. Their experiences when they found out the news and what transpired after are below:

“Just a lot of mixed emotions,” said Wauzeka-Steuben senior Jake Reichmann. “You’re riding high from a big sectional semifinal, and then as a senior, you find out that you just played your last game of your career. It’s kind of hard to deal with both those emotions at the same time.”

“The reality of it is you have to accept it,” Hornets head coach Gary Hines said. “You talk about life-learning lessons, and this is one of them. This is the way it is. If we could change it, we all would change it.”

The Hornets would’ve faced Blair-Taylor in the sectional final Saturday. Blair-Taylor had beaten Bangor 62-61 in their sectional semifinal at Adams-Friendship. Head Coach Randy Storlie remembered the moment the team got the news about the tournament getting canceled.

“We were about one mile from school here at about 11:20 last night, and the mass media [email notification] was sent out,” Storlie said. “We read it in the vans and we got got back here. Our student body waiting for us….And to have something ripped away from them that they worked so hard for, I was really worried for them.

“Let’s decide this stuff on the court. Let’s not decide it in a room and just make a rash decision. Because these seniors never get to play again, never get to put their uniforms on again.”

“We were watching film on Melrose-Mindoro and doing our normal scouting,” Aquinas girls head coach Dave Donarski recalled after his Blugolds won their state semifinal 73-42 over Crandon Thursday. “We had a gut feeling it may not go our way [regarding the tournament continuing.] Then we just called all the girls down, and didn’t necessarily indicate why. It was a really emotional group.

“I knew what I wanted to tell them but to keep my emotions in check, which I wasn’t able to do,” Donarski continued. “And just watching that emotion flow from all those kids about their experiences–it’s a special moment. I don’t know how the WIAA could have made any other decisions, so this is not on the WIAA. I think they had to, and all the other states are doing the same thing. I do understand it. It’s just incredibly disappointing for the teams that have battled so hard over the years and wanted to finish it the right way.”

Central boys basketball head coach Todd Fergot also spoke with News 8 Now. Central had advanced to the sectional finals with a 55-40 win over Onalaska Thursday night, and after the news broke late that night, Fergot got the team back together on Friday.

“We got together and watched last night’s game, and that was a really positive moment for us,” Fergot said. “We just talked about celebrating our successes this year. From our end, we’re just not going to let the ending define us. The ultimate goal for them was to win a gold ball, and I said you can’t let that determine whether or not you’re champions.”