By Marty Gordon
Cutting down the nets this past week was not as exciting as it should have been for the Auburn High School boys’ basketball team. The team and its fans drove three hours and over 150 miles to Richmond on Thursday, but they were turned away before taking the court as the Virginia High School League decided to cancel the three-day championship tournament because of the scare associated with the coronavirus.
Auburn was declared co-state champions.
Due to Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam’s declaring a state of emergency in response to the report that 17 Virginians now have the COVID-19 virus, the VHSL cancelled games said VHSL Executive Director Dr. John W. “Billy” Haun. The games included the Class 1 boys and girls state championships that involved Auburn.
“We felt with Governor Northam declaring a state of emergency, it would be irresponsible to continue the tournament tonight. It’s in the best public interest to cancel the Class 1 and boys and girls finals,” Haun said. ““While we understand how disappointing this is for all fans of our teams, we feel this decision is in the best interest of public health, including that of, most importantly, our student-athletes, coaches, administrators, families, and fans.”
Thus, the Auburn team really never got out of the locker room. Instead, they turned the bus around and headed back to Riner where they were greeted by family and friends.
Auburn Coach Terry Millirons said it was disappointing that the Eagles didn’t get the chance to play in the championship game. “We found out while we were at VCU watching the John Marshall vs Gate City Game. That might have made it extra hard because they were there and could vision themselves on the court. It was tough when we first told them but as time went on, they realized that it was out of their control,” he said.
Auburn’s last berth in the state championship occurred in 1968 when the Eagles won the Group 3 title.
Millrons said the guys have pretty much taken the disappointment of not playing in stride.
“The players were devastated at first but as time went on they began to pick each other up. The ride back was quiet at first, but they started laughing and listening to music as we got closer,” Millirons said. “By the time we got close to Salem, they all were singing and having a good time. It was really good for them once they saw the police escort and everyone who came out to welcome us at the school,” the coach said.
Auburn only had one senior on the team, Carson Perkins, and Millirons believes it hit him the hardest. “He didn’t get the chance to play in his last game,” Coach Millirons said. “The other kids on the team can look forward to trying to get to Richmond again next year, but he knew that he wasn’t going to get the chance. The kids on the team felt bad for him too. When I talked to them, several said that they would be okay, but they felt for Carson.”
Looking back at the season, Millirons believes this team exceeded a lot of expectations.
“We lost several key players from last year’s team,” the coach said. “We played a tough early season schedule and were competitive but had several losses. Just after Christmas, our guys started to feel more comfortable and our defense really started to pick up. Everyone really bought in and improved tremendously. I don’t know that I have ever coached a team that came together and improved as much as this team did.”
For the Eagles, there is always next year.