AHSAA guidelines create challenges for Blount County Schools basketball tournament



COVID-19 has wreaked havoc throughout the first couple of months of basketball season. Despite efforts of coaches and administrators throughout the county, game after game has been canceled, postponed, or rescheduled. The annual Blount County Schools basketball tournament has also fallen victim to the scheduling nightmare.

The junior high girls and boys champion should have been crowned the first of December, but too many teams were quarantined. Then the Alabama High School Athletic Association and State Department of Education mandated stricter attendance policies as well as tournament guidelines.

Assistant Blount County Schools superintendent and athletic director Chris Lakey was left with the daunting task of finding a way to play within all the COVID-19 guidelines. After weeks of working with athletic directors and coaches from all the schools, the new format for junior high girls and boys, junior varsity girls and boys, and varsity girls and boys was revealed during the Dec. 18 Blount County Board of Education meeting.

“We’ve had to get creative,” superintendent Rodney Green explained. “It’s not perfect, but there isn’t going to be a perfect plan right now. The coaches understand and they’ve been involved.”

To play within AHSAA attendance guidelines, the girls and boys tournaments will be separated. Cleveland High School will host girls while J.B. Pennington will host boys.

Each school will be allotted 100 tickets for each game in which they are participating. Those tickets will be sold by the school and must be purchased in advance. Schools have been asked to prioritize ticket sales so parents, grandparents, and close family members have the first opportunity to purchase tickets.

Tickets must be purchased for each game. If you plan to watch a game at Pennington and then go to Cleveland to see a girls game, you’ll have to buy a ticket for each game ahead of time.

Each school will keep the proceeds from their ticket sales and Green said the system is committed to paying the officials and covering the cost of awards. “We know this season has been hard on our schools and programs financially,” Green said. “It was really important to find a way for us to help our schools and our basketball programs.”

Tip-off for the junior high tournament is 11 a.m. Saturday, Jan. 9. Cleveland and J.B. Pennington face each other in game one of the girls tournament while Appalachian and Southeastern play in game one of the boys.

“Game times have been adjusted to prevent the same school from playing two games at the same time,” Green explained. “We’ve also built more time in between games. At the end of each game, the gym will be cleared and it will be sanitized. And the extended break allows ample time for people to get from one game to another.”

Brackets for both the junior high boys and girls tournaments are posted above. The seed meeting for the junior varsity and varsity tournaments will be held Jan. 13. Tournament dates are Jan. 16, 18, and 21. We will bring you those brackets as soon as they are complete.

“This format, while not ideal, was created with the best interests of our kids in mind,” Green said. “We have to keep our kids first. We want to do everything we can to make sure these kids get their tournament and get the rest of their season.”