MIAMI — COVID-19 has claimed the Northeastern Oklahoma A&M High School Basketball Tournament.
NEO officials announced the decision Thursday morning, but participating coaches were notified Wednesday.
This year’s tournament was to be played Jan. 21-23.
“Obviously we are frustrated, because we rely on this as one of our largest recruiting events of the year,” NEO President Kyle Stafford said in a release. “Based on CDC recommendations, an event like this would be in the highest risk category. In the end, we care about the health of our community above all.”
The tournament has been a local fixture for 75 years, drawing teams from the four-state area and traditionally has filled the three Miami venues: the NEO Field House, the Glen Wolfe Student Activity Center and the Miami Activity Center.
“It’s not unexpected,” said Welch girls coach Shawn Goodwin. “It’s a disappointment, but other than having no fans, which would really defeat the purpose, I don’t think they had any other choice.
“Fortunately other schools are stepping up and offering other options. I think we, as coaches have to come to realize that we are going to have to be flexible and roll with it this year. There’s going to be challenges and curve balls all season.”
The 2019 tournament drew 48 teams in seven brackets.
“It’s just been a crazy year with all this COVID going around. Everybody’s got to do what they’ve got to do to protect their students, their faculty, parents and fans — I understand where that’s coming from,” said Roland boys’ coach Ed Lewis, who like Goodwin, has played and coached in the tournament.
“We hate to lose the tournament because we enjoy coming. The hospitality from NEO has been tremendous. It’s been a great tournament for us and we’re looking forward to getting back into it if they get to have it again the following year.”
Roland, which has been a tournament participant since 1969, won its 14th boys title last year with a 55-44 win against Nowata.
The Fairland girls and Afton boys each finished second in their respective bracket.
“It’s not surprising when you consider the amount of teams from all over and the number of people they pack in there,” Miami boys’ coach Rusty Mercer said. “It will really be strange I’m sure come that part of January.”
The Wardogs, Afton, Commerce, Fairland and Quapaw all played in the tournament when it made its debut in 1946, as well as Picher-Cardin, Big Cabin, Strang, Grove, Joplin, Tahlequah Sequoyah, Tulsa Central and Vinita.
Commerce boys’ coach Terry Tyree Jr. said officials there have “called a few schools to set something up, but haven’t heard anything.”
“It’s a bad deal, but we get it,” said Amanda Davis, executive director of the Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau. “The restaurants and hotels will be sad, but I think they will understand.”
Davis said COVID-19 has also led the CVB to consider dropping its youth tournaments this winter.
“It’s tough to plan that far out for an indoor event without knowing how attendees and spectators will respond. It’s just a crazy year and we will continue to pivot and control what we can.”