By Stephen Hargis, Chattanooga Times Free Press (TNS)

The flicker of hope for having high school sports return to the area’s playing fields this spring has been extinguished.

The TSSAA made the announcement Wednesday afternoon that it has canceled the spring sports season for baseball, boys’ soccer, softball, tennis and track and field, as well as the remainder of the state tournaments for boys’ and girls’ basketball.

The announcement came shortly after Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee’s news conference announcing his decision to recommend all campuses in the state remain closed through the end of the current school year due to concerns related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The TSSAA’s announcement followed similar decisions made by the main state high school sports associations in both Alabama and Georgia two weeks ago.

“With the Governor’s announcement of school closure for the remainder of the school year, all remaining TSSAA events for 2019-20, including all spring sports and the postponed state basketball tournaments, are canceled,” TSSAA executive director Bernard Childress said in a news release. “This is an unprecedented time across our state and country, and we do not make this decision lightly. We thank all of the participants, their coaches, administrators and parents, and everyone else who has dedicated a tremendous amount of time, passion and effort to high school athletics, especially these affected events.

“To our senior participants – we thank you for everything you have done for your schools and communities and wish you the very best in your bright futures. This is difficult, but the lessons you’ve learned and friendships you’ve made through high school activities will last your lifetime.

“We look forward to the resumption of high school athletics during the 2020-21 school year and will continue work on those events at this time. The TSSAA thanks everyone involved for their patience and understanding throughout this process.”

The girls’ basketball state tournaments for public schools had just completed the first round of games before being postponed on March 11, with semifinals and championship games remaining to be played. The boys’ state tournament had not yet begun.

Three weeks ago the TSSAA Board of Control voted unanimously to approve recommendations by Childress to postpone the basketball tournaments for public schools, rather than cancel them outright, and to push back the dates of the Spring Fling – the state championship events for baseball, boys’ soccer, softball, tennis and track and field – from May 19-22 into June if necessary.

Childress had said last week that the state’s prep sports governing body was willing to push the dates of the basketball state tournaments as well as the Spring Fling back even further into June if necessary in an attempt to play out those sports. However, Childress pointed out at the time that any plan would hinge on student-athletes returning to campuses, adding that prep sports is merely an extension of the school day.

However, with coronavirus concerns remaining, the recommended closure of campuses for the remainder of the school year left no workable timetable for games to be played, and Childress said that now the TSSAA will begin shifting discussions toward fall sports and the possibility of an abbreviated football season, should the spread of coronavirus remain a concern into the summer.