The rims still hang 10 feet above a court that is 94 feet long, but that’s about all that remains unchanged at the West Virginia boys and girls high school basketball tournaments, which began Tuesday in Charleston.
It was during this event last year — at the beginning of the girls state tournament — when the COVID-19 pandemic began shuttering the world. Basketballs were collected, uniforms were stowed away and traditions were paused. And the appreciation for these tournaments, like so many others, was amplified when it was canceled.
That makes merely getting to this point feel like a win for everyone affected by the annual hoops showcase.
“To have these tournaments begin and go off is like an emotional victory for us,” said Tim Brady, president and CEO of the Charleston Convention and Visitors Bureau. “We made it through the year, we’re able to get to the tournaments and something as close to normal as far as state championships go. It’s a full-circle moment.”
But any economic expectations associated with this year’s tournaments should be held in check. In a normal year, the state tournaments can be expected to pour between $8 million to $10 million into local coffers. Officials and business owners said to expect a comparable impact this year would be foolish.
The first consideration is that seating at the Charleston Coliseum will be limited to a maximum of 4,500 socially distanced fans per session. That’s a far cry from the more than 11,000 spectators the arena can accommodate when seating is maxed out.
There also are still lingering concerns regarding travel, as many people are maintaining a cautious approach even as pandemic-related restrictions are eased in West Virginia and nationwide.
Those who do hit town will encounter hosts who aren’t operating as in years’ past. For example, hotels aren’t offering daily service, instead tending to rooms after visitors check out. Restaurants have their own protocols for indoor and outdoor dining, as well as takeout, and distancing is still in effect throughout most area stores.
But business that’s watered down when compared to past years is still business — especially when lined up next to last year’s totals.
“The state tournament is typically a nice boost for sales,” said Allan Hathaway, owner of The Purple Onion at Capitol Market. “Last year was rough without it, but then again everything was down. I’m really hopeful that this will be back to normal.”
It likely will be several weeks or even months before the tournaments’ economic impacts on the capital city can be fully quantified. But even without any hard numbers, officials remain hopeful that the return of basketball is another step toward a return to normal.
“I’m optimistic that we will see several million dollars in economic impacts, but we’re also smart enough to know it’s not going to be what it would be in a normal year,” Brady said. “And, sadly, that’s what we’re all up against — the great unknown. None of us really knows what it’s going to be like until we get through it.”