The impact of the coronavirus has hit home for one group of Barton County athletes.
Due to concerns related to the local and national spread of COVID-19, Special Olympics Kansas decided Monday to cancel the several events, including the 2020 State Basketball and Cheerleading tournaments scheduled for March 14-15 in Topeka and March 20-21 in Hays. The Barton County Storm basketball and cheerleading squads were set to attend the Hays event.
Also, upon the recommendation of the state office, the Storm has cancelled its remaining Sunday practice. Practices across the state are also being dropped as well.
“I feel badly for all of our local competitors,” said Dale Hogg, who serves as the Storm’s head coach. “This is something these athletes look forward to all season and it is a chance for them to showcase their abilities and shine.
In all, the Storm consists of 42 area basketball and cheerleading athletes, six coaches and several other volunteers. The players and cheerleaders are divided into teams based on skill levels.
But, Hogg said he understands the call. “The Special Olympics program serves a population where many are at a heightened risk due to age and/or compromised immune systems, and there is no need to put them in jeopardy.”
“This news is incredibly disappointing for all of us,” said John Lair, president/chief executive officer of SOKS. “But, the health and safety of our athletes, volunteers, staff, and partners remains our top priority,”
Lair said they have been closely monitoring the evolving situation with coronavirus for some time now. And they have been coordinating with Special Olympics Inc. and Special Olympics North America, the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, and various health professionals.
The decision came at the 11th hour, Lair said. They had been working internally and with these various partners to develop and implement precautionary steps that would have allowed us to proceed safely with the games.
And, until Saturday, there were no confirmed cases of coronavirus in Kansas. However, that changed and at least one case has since been confirmed in Sunflower State and several others have been confirmed in surrounding states.
“With this news about confirmed and possible suspected cases in Kansas, we no longer believe that we can proceed with the Games and be sure we are providing a safe and healthy environment, regardless of what precautionary steps and/or preventative measures we might implement,” Lair said.
“While canceling events is truly disappointing for athletes who have trained for months to compete – as well as for the volunteers, family, friends and our staff and board who support them and look forward to cheering for them – we know that our love of sport doesn’t compare to the importance of protecting the health and safety of all involved,” he said.
Also cancelled were all Young Athletes Programs scheduled March 9-23, KU Unified Basketball Championship game scheduled March 19 and Outdoor Skills Training scheduled for March 10. These, however, did not involve local participants.
In a conference call with SOKS Monday evening, state SO officials said they want all special olympics activities on hold until March 24. They will be meeting on the 22nd to confirm or change the date of when teams can resume practices, depending on spread of the disease.
The Storm was planning to begin its 2020 track and field season April 2 with the regional meet May 2 on Dodge City and the state meet scheduled for the first weekend in June in Wichita.