WHEELERSBURG — Usually, the first Tuesday night in the mad month of March means “Basketball 30” inside the Roundhouse on Richland Avenue: a.k.a. Ohio University’s Convocation Center.
But on this Tuesday night, it was weird with a short drive to Wheelersburg High School and Pirate Country — and the drive back home, but NOT from Athens.
For the first time since 1964, Ohio University is NOT the host site for the annual Southeast District boys basketball postseason tournaments —thanks to almost an entire year’s worth of uncertainties surrounding the impact of the coronavirus threat.
And, in 1964, those games got moved due to flooding.
The upside of that for Scioto County clubs and other schools say west and along the Scioto River and along the banks of the mighty Ohio, you don’t have that lengthy drive along routes 23 and 32 —or winding and cell-service deprived Route 93 from Lawrence County.
Still, basketball boys in Southeast Ohio dream of playing in “The Convo” — on the large 94-foot floor and in front of thousands of fans in the days and years before COVID-19.
Then there was — and still is — the legendary Lou Horvath, the colorful public address announcer always proclaiming it “Basketball 30” before going straight to the starting lineups.
Indeed, you need not carry a watch, an hour glass, a sun dial, or even have the time of day showing up on your I-phone.
Most years, the Division III boys district semifinals occupies an entire Sunday —while the Division IV boys semifinals take place on Monday and/or Tuesday.
But 2021, of course, isn’t most years —and Tuesday’s Division III district semifinals became first such games to not be played inside the Convo in many memory.
Instead, through the district semifinals, the higher-seeded teams had the luxury of hosting —including second-seeded Wheelersburg welcoming seventh-seeded West.
This is the same Senator squad which won its first sectional championship since 1998 —when the inside of the Convo even appeared different than it does today.
The dark green floor is still the same as it was then, when I was still a student at OU — and just beginning my sportswriting career — in the late 1990s.
Normally, that West and Wheelersburg matchup would take place at the Convo — just as Wednesday night’s Division IV semifinals between South Webster and New Boston and Valley and Western.
For the home teams, hosting those games sure helps with familiarity —but it’s still too bad that ALL the boys missed out on a season at the Convo.
The West siders brought a nice crowd with them to Wheelersburg —and both clubs no doubt would have brought a caravan of fans to Athens.
For the Senators, it would have been a dream come true.
“I know this game would normally be at the Convo, and that would have been awesome. If there wasn’t this COVID-19 stuff going on, we would have brought a huge crowd and so would they (Pirates),” said West first-year head coach Caleb McClanahan. “It would have been a big-time game and a big-time atmosphere.”
McClanahan went on to say that with the situation and setup as it was, “they (Pirates) earned that (second) seed so they earned a home game.”
While some purists probably prefer neutral sites no matter where or what round a tournament trail is at, the higher seeds surely don’t mind getting games at home.
Valley coach Norm Persin spoke of that importance following his young Indians’ sectional championship triumph.
“Another home game here is big for these kids,” said Persin. “We’ve just won a sectional, now we’re playing at home again for the first game of the district. We just want to keep playing and moving on.”
Wheelersburg coach Steven Ater also spoke of the positives of playing home tournament games.
“Getting a chance to play two tournament games at home, I think that’s fantastic. I love the environment of this and the chance to play another game or two and cut down nets for a sectional championship here,” said Ater. “Our kids have been there (at Convo), and some kids think that is the goal, but the goal is to win every game in front of you. I don’t care where they are playing it. If we get a chance to play in it, we’re excited about it.”
Ater is indeed correct — you play to win the game, no matter the site.
For the Pirates, that will be Piketon High School on Friday night —as Wheelersburg will play Eastern Brown for the Division III district title.
However, when you’re accustomed to making that drive to and from Athens in early-to-mid March, there’s just something different, something special, and something pure about hearing Horvath say “the nets belong to (insert district champion here).”
And then, right on cue, Queen’s We Are The Champions blares over the loudspeakers.
Yeah, it was —and will be — weird this month.
Reach Paul Boggs at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1926, by email at [email protected], or on Twitter @BoggsSports © 2020 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved