Big changes for TSSAA basketball tourney as it bounces back from pandemic

tssaa tourney.jpg
Posted at 8:50 PM, Mar 10, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-10 21:50:49-05

MURFREESBORO, Tenn. (WTVF) — It feels and certainly sounds like March in the Murphy Center, but that’s about as close to normal as it gets. At Middle Tennessee State University, teams from across Tennessee are competing to crown a champion for a season many weren’t sure would exist.

COVID-19 abruptly put an end to the tournament last year after only two days. After a year in a pandemic, the decision to play on required many changes to the protocol before tip-off.

At the door, ticket takers were instead taking temperatures. It helped that all tickets were bought online in advance, so there was no need to exchange cash between fans and staff.

Heather Shepherd is a basketball mom for the Peabody High School girls team and showed up expecting a few changes. What she found were fans far more separated than she hoped.

“No this ain’t normal. Far from it,” Shepherd said.

Playing on their home court offered a little more flexibility, but things are different under the state roof. For one thing, entire rows have been blocked off to promote more social distancing. Officials also divided the tournament into 3 sessions per day. Each session consists of 2 games with a capacity of 1,000 fans/session.

The arena was divided into quadrants for each session. That way each team has a section for their fans and cheerleaders. There’s also no access to the floor for anyone other than each team and officiating crews. Shepherd says this is proving to be more of a challenge for parents than she once thought.

“After games we like hugs. We like coming close to each other and celebrating. Now until they get everything under control, we can’t. Especially with me being a nurse, I have to be cautious,” Shepherd said.

Masks are one thing most people are familiar with this far into the pandemic, so it was no surprise they were mandatory in the arena. What was surprising is how few people bothered to keep their masks on. Attendants did remind people to wear their masks as they walked around the mezzanine, but there was little to no enforcement once you sat down.

Didn’t seem to bother most who say they were glad to be back watching basketball in-person. Cora Martin and Charlotte Simpson are what you call super fans. They had no nieces or daughter playing in the game but still showed up for what was their first game in-person all year.

“It’s been basically through Zoom video, TV, and radio,” Martin said.

We’ve stayed apart to come closer together and for these two, that’s what matters. It’s been a long Rebound, but this is less about the change of pace. More importantly, it’s about the ones who make these changes worthwhile.

“They’re back doing what they love and that’s the important part. We just support how we can,” Shepherd said.