Skip to main contentSkip to main content
You have permission to edit this article.
In honor of Independence Day, Democrat-Herald is providing unlimited access to all of our content from June 28th-July 4th! Presented by Western Interlock
alert top story

Editorial: Return of (high school) March Madness feels special for mid-valley

  • Updated
  • 0
Crescent Valley celebration

The Raiders bench celebrates during the final seconds of their 48-45 victory over Willamette in the quarterfinals of the 5A tournament at Gill Coliseum on Thursday.

The OSAA 5A state basketball tournament returned to the Oregon State University campus this week with a bit of extra meaning. Finally, we hope and pray, things may be returning to normal.

Coronavirus cases and COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths are decreasing and we’re dreaming of a full schedule of summertime events. And this basketball tourney makes it all feel possible as a weird set of bookends to the pandemic.

Roughly two years ago, COVID-19 hit home for many mid-Willamette Valley residents partly because of the tournament. Our world changed as the competition was taking place in 2020. That’s the moment etched in time.

The first coronavirus case in Oregon was recorded on Feb. 28 that year. In the weeks afterward, more instances of COVID-19 appeared and officials worried and wondered what to do.

But, in large part, life didn’t really shift until the night of Wednesday, March 11, 2020, when the OSAA decided to shut spectators out of high school athletic contests to limit the spread of the illness. The next morning, the West Albany boys played in the tournament, losing 72-50 in a Gill Coliseum ghost town.

“Nobody was out there, nobody was cheering and there was no energy in the gym,” said Austin Stanaway, then a West Albany senior. “My parents were pretty sad. I think all the parents were pretty sad.”

Things got worse from there.

As the Bulldogs played on Ralph Miller Court, the South Albany boys were downstairs waiting, their coach ready to deliver his pregame pep talk. And the state championships were abruptly cancelled.

Hoops dreams for teens ended unceremoniously.

The Lebanon girls also were set to play a game for fourth place at Gill Coliseum on Friday, March 13.

Philomath’s girls and boys were seeded first and second respectively in the 4A tournament at Forest Grove.

For all these squads and others across the state, seniors never got the chance to suit up one last time, hit the hardwood and represent their hometowns. Coaches described it as a devastating blow.

These student athletes worked so hard — ran lines at practice, dove on the floor and took stray elbows — and their efforts over the course of years were derailed because of an invisible enemy.

Of course, COVID-19 would result in far more cancellations for youth — and social distancing, mask regulations, business restrictions and a period of massive unemployment for the general public. But the 5A tourney seemed like the first domino to fall.

K-12 schools were officially shut down by Gov. Kate Brown via an announcement on Thursday, March 12, 2020 and they didn’t reopen for in-person instruction that school year.

The high school spring sports season was cancelled in 2020, as well, proms weren’t held and graduations occurred in weird fashion.

In 2021, there was no state basketball tournament due to the pandemic, either. The Corvallis High School girls team won a sort of de facto title with an undefeated season capped by victories at an invitational tournament featuring the state’s top 5A teams.

The school absolutely should consider this a championship, even though it wasn’t an OSAA-sanctioned event where the winner is crowned and the nets cut down.

But the 5A state tourney at Gill Coliseum just feels magnificent and regal.

For most athletes, competing on the big stage of a Pac-12 school is the highlight of their athletic careers.

When we’ve written about this tournament in the past, we’ve kind of joked about singing Bruce Springsteen’s “Glory Days,” but there’s a large degree of truth there. Students today will reminisce about these experiences years from now to children and grandchildren and probably whomever will listen.

After a two-year absence, the high school version of March Madness is back in Corvallis. That definitely feels like something to celebrate and a sign of better things to come for everyone.


Get local news delivered to your inbox!

* I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its user agreement and privacy policy.

Related to this story

Roses to a new disc golf course at Deerfield Park in Albany, the Albany Police Department's TikTok outreach, a $24 million construction project at OSU, and to local efforts to help Ukraine fight a Russian invasion.

Get up-to-the-minute news sent straight to your device.


News Alert

Breaking News