Jared Rubado: Basketball and the week everything shut down
A look back at a crazy couple of days in March when the sports world shut down in the middle of covering the Alexandria girls basketball team at the state tournament.
When I took this job at the Echo Press, I was looking forward to the chance to cover state tournament runs by our local teams. The fanfare around a successful season is exhilarating, and I couldn’t wait to be the storyteller on one of those journeys. I will never forget the 36 hours I spent at the girls state basketball tournament in March.
When the Alexandria girls basketball team made it to the state tournament, I offered to cover it. I wanted to experience the atmosphere for myself, and I was excited to meet up with some friends in the cities. My dad was also in St. Paul on a business trip, so it was a chance for me to have a great weekend.
The Cardinals played Becker in the first round, one of the better teams in the field. They lost in a close 63-55 game and moved on to the consolation side of the bracket. I remember interviewing a handful of the players and writing my story in a side room at the Maturi Pavilion.
Once I got the story online, I had to kill time until the next game. That plan was for me to cover the first game in the consolation bracket and then rush to Melrose for the boys section championship against St. Cloud Apollo.
I met up with my dad at a Buffalo Wild Wings, where we watched the first round of the Big Ten conference basketball tournament. Little did I know that was the last restaurant I was going to eat at in person in 2020. We joked about how people were overeating to COVID-19. I vividly remember saying there was no chance the NCAA was going to cancel March Madness.
Just 10 minutes after we paid the bill, I was sitting in my car in the parking lot. I was scrolling through Twitter before going to my friend’s apartment. I saw that Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson tested positive for COVID-19. Meanwhile, Utah Jazz forward Rudy Gobert became the laughing stock of social media after mocking the virus only to test positive days later.
My dad was long gone, but I called my mom in the parking lot. Earlier that week, she and my sister visited me in Alexandria. We went to D. Michael B’s and joked about how people were overreacting by buying all the toilet paper. When I spoke with her on the phone, she sounded much more concerned.
I sat in that parking lot for a half-hour, watching the emergence of this global pandemic through my phone. There has never been a moment where sports shut down as they did on March 12. I ended up staying in my dad’s hotel room until the next girls basketball game.
The following morning, the Minnesota State High School League announced there wasn’t going to be a consolation championship in any bracket. Each team was going to play its Friday games and go home. It’s hard to describe how bizarre the building felt when I showed up to the Alexandria game at Concordia-St. Paul.
I remember it being one of the quietest games I’ve ever covered. There were still fans, but I think everybody felt so uncertain about what was happening that it killed all competitive spirit.
I left at halftime to make the game in Melrose, where the Section 8AAA wasn’t allowing any fans unrelated to the players. About 200 Alexandria and Apollo family members watched what would be the final game of the school year.
The game was incredible. It was a back-and-forth slugfest between two very good basketball teams. That was the last time I covered a sporting event without thinking about Covid.
After Apollo pulled out the win, I spoke with head coach Jason Allen. At that time, the MSHSL hadn’t announced the state tournament would be canceled, but he knew.
It was so clear in his voice. The euphoric moment of winning met with the crushing realization that the season was over.
Thinking about the way sports were before the pandemic is becoming foreign to me. As we inch closer to getting through these trying times, I look forward to seeing packed stands, smiling faces and loud cheers. That’s why I love sports so much, and we’re almost there.
(Editor’s note: This is part of a series of columns that will run in the Echo Press sports section looking back at a 2020 year that was so memorable in a lot of ways.)