KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Not familiar with Missouri high school basketball's Final Four? Well, for the participants, it's just as big as the NCAA Final Four.
"We're talking about a Final Four," said Aaron Ihm, Raytown South High School boys basketball coach. "There are amazing coaches and players that never get to experience that once."
For any first-timers this season, they won't get that experience, at least not this season. The Missouri High School Activities Assocation (MSHSAA) canceled its remaining Final Fours on Monday amid coronavirus concerns.
Ihm's Cardinals were set to go in the Class 4 Boys bracket. Mark Spigarelli's Blue Springs Wildcats were a Class 5 Girls qualifier.
"Watching their reaction was the hardest thing I've been through as a coach," said Spigarelli, girls basketball coach.
Blue Springs had just knocked off undefeated and No. 1 Liberty to advance to the Final Four, scheduled for this weekend in Springfield, Missouri. Two days later, they learned about the cancellation in the middle of practice.
"One of our seniors got up and started crying and ran toward the back of the gym," Spigarelli said. "All 14 girls went around her and they were all in a group crying together."
"If you would have had that on video, you wouldn't be talking to me, because that spoke volumes."
Ihm didn't even get the chance to have that moment with his team. Due to Raytown South being shut down, he hasn't seen his team since the cancellations.
"I may have to wait two or three weeks just to see my guys and give them a hug again," Ihm said.
MSHSAA was one of the last holdouts among all levels of sport to cancel its event. The quarterfinals were played with limited fan attendance. But both coaches agree, the right call was made.
"I think it came down to trying to give kids the opportunity of a lifetime and not shut them out unless it was absolutely necessary," Ihm said. "We just got to that unfortunately absolutely necessary point."
Spigarelli also said the cancellation was the right decision.
"In light of the world and what's going on, I think it probably was," he said.