Martin girls’ basketball coach Ben Schipper talks to his team during a timeout in the second half of the Clippers’ Division 4 regional semifinal win over Colon. (Photo by Jason Wesseldyk)

Coronavirus puts winter sports tournaments in jeopardy

By: 
Jason Wesseldyk

This has been a dream season for the Martin girls’ basketball team.
Not only did the Clippers go 19-1 in the regular season—beating Gobles in the regular-season finale to avenge its only loss and secure the outright SAC Lakeshore title—but they also cruised to a district championship before easily beating Colon in a regional semifinal game.
A dream season, indeed.
Sometimes, though, you wake up before the dream has finished.
The afternoon of its scheduled Division 4 regional final St. Joseph Michigan Lutheran on Thursday, March 12, the Clippers learned that all winter sports tournaments were being immediately and indefinitely postponed due to growing concerns regarding COVID-19, or the coronavirus.
“This season has been a magical one for us,” first-year Martin girls’ basketball coach Ben Schipper said. “Up to that point, it has gone exactly as we dreamed it would. Our goal all along has been to be playing our best basketball at the end of the season. I can absolutely say we felt like we were doing that.
“We felt our practice on Wednesday, the day before our regional final, was one of the best practices we have had all year.”
The following day, the MHSAA announced the suspension of all activity in its sponsored sports, putting the spring sports season on hold as well.
“Obviously, this is an unprecedented time for the MHSAA and all of us who are affected by the suspension of winter sports tournaments as well as spring sports,” Schipper said. “There is a lot of uncertainty currently as we have no timetable for continuing our postseason or no guarantee that we will.
“Our team is heartbroken that it unfolded like this, but we understand the number one priority is slowing the spread of the virus and keeping as many people safe as possible. Thursday night after our game was cancelled, we decided to do some team bonding rather than practice. That was much needed for the girls and for me and our coaching staff. It was great to be able to get together and laugh and have fun during a time where we were all very disappointed and shocked.”
Schipper’s players weren’t the only local athletes to be affected by the postponement of the winter tournaments.
The Martin boys’ basketball team was slated to play in a Division 4 district final on Friday, March 13, while the Otsego boys’ basketball team was scheduled to play Grand Rapids South Christian with a Division 2 district title on the line. And swimmers and divers from Allegan, Hamilton, Otsego, Plainwell and Wayland were slated to compete in the state finals beginning that same day.
“Not knowing if our season will continue puts us all in a very difficult spot,” Schipper said. “We can’t practice as school is shut down until after spring break, so we encouraged the girls to shoot hoops at their homes and to try to keep each other’s spirits and morale lifted as much as possible.
“As a coaching staff, we’re trying to make sure our team understands that although this is unfortunate, we have to respect the decision to put health first. We’re just remaining hopeful that we get the chance to finish our postseason. It was incredibly disappointing to get the news of the suspension, but we remain optimistic to be able to keep chasing our goals.”
 

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