New Jersey’s state championships in high school boys’ and girls’ basketball have been canceled because of the outbreak of the coronavirus.

The New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association, which oversees high school sports in the state, announced the decision to cancel the remainder of the state tournaments late Thursday.

“We have been making our decisions one day at a time, taking into account the best available guidance from the state health department and the CDC [Centers for Disease Control],” the NJSIAA said in a statement. “Now, given the rapidly changing circumstances and uncertainties facing our member schools, our student-athletes, our host facilities and many others, we no longer see a viable path to the completion of the Group championships on Saturday and Sunday.

“We understand that our decision will disappoint many, but believe it to be in the best interest of our student-athletes and all those involved with our games.”

The NJSIAA basketball tournaments had advanced past the sectional round in both boys’ and girls’ competition. Some teams had played state semifinal games, moving to the brink of state finals that were scheduled to be completed this weekend.

Wildwood Catholic coach David DeWeese said his team was "devastated" by the cancellation of the state tournament.
TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer
Wildwood Catholic coach David DeWeese said his team was "devastated" by the cancellation of the state tournament.

In boys’ basketball, Timber Creek in Group 3, Burlington City in Group 1, Wildwood Catholic in Non-Public B, and St. Augustine in Non-Public A had advanced to the state finals.

“We’re devastated as a group,” Wildwood Catholic coach David DeWeese said. “I woke up this morning to texts from my kids, and I had tears in my eyes.”

Timber Creek coach Rich Bolds said he understood the decision.

“While this is disappointing to myself and my players, I understand the concern for the overall health and safety of the kids and all involved,” Bolds said. “I take comfort in knowing that my coaches and I took kids who have grown up in our community to the brink of a state championship.

“We will cherish knowing we had an amazing run to the South Jersey Group 3 championship and possibly a Group 3 state title.”

St. Augustine Prep coach Paul Rodio was not surprised by the news.

“With everything that is going on, with so much uncertainty, how could we possibly play and look ourselves in the eye and say it was the right thing to do?” Rodio said.

Camden senior Lance Ware and his teammates were two wins away from the program's 12th state title.
TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer
Camden senior Lance Ware and his teammates were two wins away from the program's 12th state title.

Camden had reached the Group 2 state semifinals, but its game against Manasquan on Thursday night was canceled when Manasquan withdrew from the tournament on Thursday afternoon, leaving the Panthers literally stranded — the team bus was on its way to Toms River North, site of the scheduled game, when the news broke.

Camden athletic director Mark Phillips said the decision to err on the side of caution made sense to him.

“I’ll take disappointed over devastated any day,” Phillips said. “I’m disappointed for our kids, parents, coaches, and city. However, I would be devastated if one of our kids or coaches fell ill.”

In girls’ basketball, Cherokee in Group 4 and Ocean City in Group 3 had reached the state finals.

Cherokee girls' basketball coach Ron Powell believes all finalists should be declared "co-state champions."
TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer
Cherokee girls' basketball coach Ron Powell believes all finalists should be declared "co-state champions."

“We are all very disappointed,” Cherokee coach Ron Powell said. "Our seniors will never have this chance again.

"I believe the state is doing what is best for everyone at this time. I am old school. I don’t believe everyone should always get a trophy. But in this case, I hope the state does the right thing for these kids and declares all of the finalists co-state champions. ... These kids and programs should be recognized.

“We all wanted to decide it on the court, but we can’t.”