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Local coaches react to indefinite suspension of winter sports

By: Jason Carmel Davis | C&G Newspapers | Published March 20, 2020

 Sterling Heights Stevenson wing Andre Turner goes up for a layup in a game earlier this season. The Titans were set to play in a Division 1 district final.

Sterling Heights Stevenson wing Andre Turner goes up for a layup in a game earlier this season. The Titans were set to play in a Division 1 district final.

Photo by Sean Work

Many Macomb County boys and girls basketball teams will be left to wonder “what if” after the COVID-19 pandemic led the Michigan High School Athletic Association to indefinitely suspend the winter sports season.

The boys hoops teams from Sterling Heights Stevenson, St. Clair Shores Lakeview, Macomb Dakota, Macomb Lutheran North, Mount Clemens High, Warren Woods Tower, Warren De La Salle, Clinton Township Chippewa Valley, Roseville High, Warren Lincoln and Warren Michigan Collegiate were all scheduled to play March 13 in district championship games. 

The Macomb Dakota and Utica Eisenhower girls basketball teams were set to battle March 12 in a D-1 regional final.

There’s been nothing that alludes to the winter sports postseason continuing at a later date, but some coaches are hopeful that takes place.

“Technically, the season is still postponed according to the MHSAA, so I get to hold out hope for some more time with this team,” said Warren Woods Tower boys basketball coach Jason Henshaw, whose team was set to play in a second straight district final. “But most important is everyone’s health — not just the athletes and coaches — but all of our friends and loved ones who we may come into contact with.

“It was the right decision to postpone everything.”

Dakota girls basketball coach Phil McCune took extra precautions in telling his team the season was over — he gave the squad the bad news via text, but for a good reason.

“I didn’t want them to come together again in a large group if they didn’t have to, due to the virus,” said McCune, whose team went 20-4 and won a third straight district title. “There was no face-to-face meeting with them unfortunately.

“We hope to have another opportunity to play the regional final game in the future if things subside and the MHSAA agrees to it, but we also realize that the No. 1 concern is the health of everyone involved, and that our season may be over.  If that is the case, what a season we had.”

Lutheran North coach Jeff DeMasse, looking to guide the team to its second-ever district title, said the meeting with his team was emotional.

“This is bigger than basketball,” DeMasse said. “It’s unfortunate that we, or any other team, won’t have the opportunity to compete for a championship.

“The coaches and I had a feeling something like this would happen. … As soon as the NCAA conferences started canceling their tournaments, I knew we were next.”

Each coach found it difficult to discuss the situation with their respective team. The leaders felt the worst for the players, who they all said worked very hard to put themselves in the position for postseason success.

Some continue to hold out hope for a quick resolution and a continuance of the winter playoffs.

“We just feel there is unfinished business to take care of,” said Dakota boys basketball coach Paul Tocco, whose team had a chance to win its sixth district title in seven years. “But we also understand that in times like this, basketball is secondary. The health and safety of our team, families and community comes first. Hopefully our season is to be continued.”