A little more than 24 hours after earning a spot in state championship for the first time in school history, the Cherokee High School girls basketball team’s season was over.
And they found out how most teenagers get their information these days – on social media.
Due to the nationwide concern over the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA) decided last week to cancel the rest of the boys and girls state championship tournaments this season.
The NJSIAA’s statement at 10 p.m. on March 12 was as follows:
“The NJSIAA has canceled the remainder of the boys and girls basketball championships. The games will not be rescheduled.
“We have been making our decisions one day at a time, taking into account the best available guidance from the state health department and the CDC. Now, given the rapidly changing circumstances and uncertainties facing our member schools, our student-athletes, our host facilities, and many others, we no longer see a viable path to the completion of the Group Championships on Saturday and Sunday.
“We understand that our decision will disappoint many, but believe it to be in the best interest of our student-athletes and all those involved with the games.”
The Chiefs advanced to the state finals with a 43-27 victory over Central Jersey Group 4 champion Montgomery (19-11) March 11 in Toms River.
“My reaction was disappointment for our team, but I believe it was the right call under the circumstances,” said Cherokee coach Ron Powell, whose team won the school’s third sectional title with a 45-34 victory over visiting sister-school Shawnee March 9.
“The girls unfortunately found out on social media on Thursday night. I was hoping that the state would let us know first and then we, along with our administration, would be able to tell them. Didn’t work out that way. They started to text me that night. Obviously, they were very upset.
Powell said the team met Friday, March 13 with Cherokee athletic director Scott Agnew and principal Donna Charlesworth and explained to them that the state had ruled that the season was over.
“They told them how proud we were of them and that the Lenape Regional High School District Board of Education would be honoring them and that a banner would be hung in Cherokee’s gym saying ‘30-1 Group 4 State Champions’,” said Powell.
Powell said he thanked the four seniors on the team – Olivia Kessler, Christianna McFadden, Katie McKeffrey and Kennedy Wilburn – and reminded them what they were a part of the last four years: 108-12 record, four Olympic Conference American Division titles, three South Jersey Invitational Basketball Tournament titles, two South Jersey Group 4 sectional championships and one co-Group 4 state championship.
Cherokee (30-1) was slated to play Franklin (24-5), a two-time defending state champion, in the state Group 4 finals on March 15.
“I hope the state does the right thing for the girls finalists and awards them a co-state championship. We would have all liked to decide it on the court, but could not,” said Powell. “We have nothing to apologize for under the circumstances. These kids deserve all the credit for an outstanding season.”