CORONAVIRUS

Surreal scene as Iowa boys' state basketball championships played before precious few fans

IHSAA mandate because of COVID-19 threat

Wapsie Valley players plays Bishop Garrigan in their Class 1A state championship game at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines
Wapsie Valley players plays Bishop Garrigan in their Class 1A state championship game at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines on Friday, March 13, 2020. (Andy Abeyta/The Gazette)
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DES MOINES — About 30 North Linn fans waited patiently in sun and fairly comfortable conditions mid-afternoon Friday just outside doors at one of the entries to Wells Fargo Arena. They weren’t allowed to come inside those doors until exactly a half-hour before their team’s Class 2A state championship game against Boyden-Hull.

Inside the arena at the time, Wapsie Valley and Algona Garrigan were in the fourth quarter of their 1A title game. The view from the main concourse was thousands of empty red seats, spectators filling only a handful of rows at midcourt and behind their respective team’s bench.

This was surreal. Simply surreal.

The eight schools who participated in Championship Friday were allowed 100 attendees. No more, no less.

And the total of 100 included all coaches, players and team managers. This was the Iowa High School Athletic Association’s decision in response to the ongoing coronavirus threat in the United States.

“I feel their hands are tied,” said Dave Miller, father of North Linn star Austin Miller. “At least as a senior, Austin gets to play one more game. It’s going to be an odd environment.”

Which it was, certainly.

While several other states canceled parts or all of their state tournaments, Iowa completed its, with Friday being the only day there was restricted fan access. Miller, his wife, Sheri, their daughter, Nicole, their other son, Ryan, and Austin’s grandparents were among the fortunate few to get tickets.

“We just kind of divided the number of tickets by the number of players we have,” North Linn Co-Coach/Activities Director Mike Hilmer said. “It (came out to) about seven per player, something like that. If a (player’s) family was only four, then we added to others from there.”

The IHSAA gave the teams normal championship treatment, with the lights being turned out during introductions, and a spotlight shining on each player as he walked onto the court. The fans who were in attendance definitely whooped it up to their fullest capabilities.

“I would say once the game started, I didn’t really notice anything,” said North Linn guard Austin Hilmer. “Pregame, it was a lot quieter. Our fans did a good job, were as loud as they could be. It was different, bu we’ll definitely remember this for a long, long time.”

“For the kids, it’s really cool to see a packed house and all that,” Mike Hilmer said. “I was kind of watching some film from last year ... last night. Most teams, I think (this) would probably bug them. But our kids, they just play.”

Boyden-Hull beat North Linn 64-51 for the Class 2A title.

In the Class 3A consolation game Friday morning, Tyler Schrepfer hit a 3-pointer with five seconds left in overtime to lift Clear Creek Amana past Ballard, 76-73.

Ashton Hermann made one of two free throws with 34 seconds left to tie the game for Ballard. Clear Creek Amana called timeout with 27 seconds to go and wound the clock down for Schrepfer’s final winning shot.

The senior guard, part of a CCA team that went 2-20 when he was a freshman, had 12 points. Nick O’Connor went off for 28 points, including eight 3-pointers.

T.J. Bollers had 10 points and 15 rebounds for CCA. The Clippers finished 21-6, qualifying for the state tournament for the first time since 1993.

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Hermann’s 18 points led Ballard (19-8). He was one of four double-figures scorers for the Bombers.

In the 1A championship game, Wapsie Valley beat Algona Garrigan, 65-53. The Warriors (21-7) were a fourth seed in their own district and won their first postseason game against Gladbrook-Reinbeck in overtime.

Kiks Rosengarten had 21 points and 15 rebounds for Wapsie. Hall of fame head coach Marty McKowen won his 596th career game ... and his first state title.

Comments: (319) 398-8259; jeff.johnson@thegazette.com

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