*Editor’s note: Diego Felix is a journalism students in SF State’s Journalism 575 Community Media this spring. Taught by professor Jon Funabiki, the class is a collaboration with El Tecolote.
Losing a game in the semifinals is heart wrenching, but having to withdraw without ever touching the court is indescribable.
That’s what Archbishop Riordan High School’s Men’s basketball team had to deal with as they were amidst bringing a championship to their school.
But that reality was taken away from them due to the coronavirus.
On March 5, they had beaten Vanden High School at home in the quarter finals, which set them up to play against De La Salle at home on Saturday March 7 in the semi-finals of the California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) tournament.
At that point, COVID-19, also known as the coronavirus, was in its early stages and San Francisco didn’t announce or have any reported cases of the virus.
The Crusaders had all the momentum coming into Saturday’s game against the Spartans, being the No. 1 seed with a 23-5 record and having home court advantage throughout the playoffs.
“No doubt in my mind that no one could beat us, no matter who it was,” said Bryce Monroe, Senior and Captain of the Men’s Varsity Basketball team.
However, they wouldn’t even get a chance to step on the court when they got notified on game day that a parent of one of the students had tested positive for the coronavirus.
Bob Greene, one of the Athletic Directors at the school, told the team they had to cancel the game against De La Salle and push it back to March 9.
“At the time we were just upset, like when are we going to play?” said Je’Lani Clark, one of the other captains on the team.
That Saturday afternoon to Monday morning, it was just a whirlwind of emotions and anxiety from the team.
Reality was setting in, that the season could be derailed from the coronavirus.
On Monday, head coach Joey Curtin got the news they weren’t going to play anymore due to a student at the school testing positive and they had been removed from the state playoffs.
“That was a big blow,” said Curtin. He let the team know via group text Monday morning saying the season was over.
“Monday morning, I woke up to a text saying the season is over and I was so mad I just went back to sleep and I woke up to 18 missed calls, everybody was hitting me up,” said Clark.
Clark just couldn’t believe it and didn’t think the season was going to be cancelled. He thought his team was going to end up playing De La Salle.
“We just felt like we were cheated,” said Clark. “Our season got taken away but they got to play.”
Clark felt the school didn’t try their hardest to think of another plan for the team to continue to play.
He felt like they just moved on. He wished the season didn’t end the way it did because the team worked so hard and did everything in their power to make sure this season was going to be the best.
“We sacrificed for the team so much, we did so much just to win,” said Clark. “Our main focus was making our teammates happy and the school proud and the community proud too. Every home game I felt like there was someone new watching us. We just started building a new crowd.”
In his 13 years of coaching at Riordan, Curtin knew this was a special group of young men. And now they will never experience playing together again.
“It was just heartbreaking,” said Monroe, when he found out the season was over. He took the news really hard, just coming to the grip that his high school career was over.
Monroe wasn’t just affected mentally but emotionally as well. “The next couple of days I [kept] to myself, I didn’t work out and I was really going through my own emotions.”
The most frustrating thing the team couldn’t comprehend though, was the fact that De Salle got to advance and play in the CIF NorCal Division I Championship. Only to lose against Campolindo, a team the Crusaders had previously beat in the regular season.
The CIF eventually cancelled the entire playoffs but only after Campolindo were crowned NorCal Champs.
“I don’t get how my team didn’t get to play when none of us had corona,” said Monroe.
Monroe understands the school was trying to protect and save lives from the coronavirus, but believes the right call should have been for the CIF to cancel everybody’s season.
“My little sister teared up with me because she knows how much I love basketball,” Monroe said.
“We just wanted to play,” Clark said. “Us playing at home we just felt so confident like no one could beat us. We were creating our own legacy and wanted to end on a good note.”
If the season wasn’t cancelled, Clark believes they could have won the state championship. They just had the feeling that nothing could have stopped them mentally, they found their rhythm, playing the best basketball they ever played.
“My mom definitely felt for me,” Clark said. “My family knows how serious this game is for me and how I want to make a living out of it. Basketball is a part of me. When you don’t have it, you start looking yourself in the mirror and ‘think what I am going to do now mentality.’”
Four days after the season was canceled, the team was supposed to meet for a team dinner, but all the restaurants were closed. It was just killing them that they couldn’t see each other.
The Crusaders were vying for their first state championship in 20 years.
“This group wasn’t your typical good high school team, they had really high talent level, big personalities, a mix of young men that were really passionate about the game and the school, and I think people will remember them no matter what,” Curtin said. “That’s something I told them to take to heart and take with them.”
An award banquet dinner is scheduled sometime in the future to celebrate the season the Crusaders had. Graduation ceremonies, for the moment, have been pushed back to June 27.