MSHSL cancels basketball tournaments over COVID-19

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Friday brought bad news to high school athletes in Minnesota. The Minnesota State High School League (MSHSL) announced the girls’ basketball tournament, boys’ section and state basketball tournament and adapted floor hockey tournament have been canceled.

It happened at 10:45 a.m., only about an hour before noon tip-off for the girls’ tournament.

“We’re all very sad and it’s something that you don’t expect that’s going to affect you directly until it does,” said Alyssa Ustby, a senior guard for the Rochester Lourdes team. “We know that so many people are being affected by this and we’re not the only ones but now we just feel for them on a deeper level.”

She and her teammates couldn’t hide their disappointment, many in tears as they hugged. It was an abrupt end to what they hoped would be a championship season.

“I knew we could do it, to fall just that short … it’s heartbreaking,” said Ustby.

On Thursday, MSHSL decided to restrict who could attend the games but said the tournaments would continue.

“I really, l felt comfortable like, ‘Okay, we’re going to finish this and it’ll be a good scenario,’” said Aaron Berg, head coach for the girls’ Lourdes team. “Then to wake up this morning, we found out on our way to practice so that was tough.”

It also caught vendors off-guard. Staff was seen throwing out large bags of popcorn intended for fans. An ice vendor also showed up at the venue just before noon, unaware of the cancellation.

“I know if [MSHSL] made that decision, they made it out of the right mindset and we just need to accept that and move on,” said Ustby.

She heads to the University of North Carolina in the fall, where she will continue her basketball career. But first, her team took one final picture together on the court at Williams Arena.

“Looking back, I’m so grateful for the memories I’ve made with my best friends and I’m going to miss them so much, playing this sport that we all love,” she said.

There have been several major cancellations in the last few days. The NCAA called off championships for spring and winter sports, including the wrestling championships planned for U.S. Bank Stadium next week.

About 40,000 fans were expected, according to Sports Minneapolis.

More than 20,000 people are anticipated to attend the weekend festival leading up to Tuesday’s Cross Country Ski World Cup Sprint Finals race at Theodore Wirth Park.

Smaller events have also been canceled statewide.

“There’s just no doubt that it is a bit of a shock to our industry,” said John Edman, director of Explore Minnesota, which is the state’s tourism promotion agency.

He told KSTP tourism is a $16 billion industry in Minnesota. Cancellations will affect hotels, restaurants and local shops.

“The unprecedented nature of this event is that it’s happening so fast, it’s changing each and every day,” he said. “We’re not sure of the dollar impact, we won’t know for a while.”

Edman added that they’ve been in touch with other state agencies and are following the lead of the Minnesota Department of Health. He’s also been talking with tourism leaders around the country and said many states are facing the same challenges.

“Long-term, my hope is that there will be this pent up demand for people to travel, discover new things and then if you look at the year as a whole, that we’ll be able to make up some of the losses we’re experiencing right now,” said Edman.

In the meantime, they’ve paused international marketing and are focusing on Minnesota instead.

“Maybe there will be people who were perhaps going to travel internationally, they’ll be looking to do something closer to home,” he said.

Melvin Tennant, Executive Director of Sports Minneapolis, sent KSTP the following statement about NCAA wrestling:

"It’s far too early to fully identify the impact on our community of not holding the NCAA Wrestling Championships.

"In 2018, the Greater Cleveland Sports Commission estimated $15 million in economic impact for hosting the championships.

"We expected this year would be recording-setting in terms of attendance, as this was to be the first NCAA Wrestling Championships held in a stadium. Our tourism and hospitality partners around the city were ready to welcome wrestling fans with open arms.

"While Sports Minneapolis is deeply disappointed that Minneapolis will not have the opportunity to host this major event as originally anticipated, we understand what a difficult decision this was for the NCAA."