INDIANAPOLIS — This time last year, the coronavirus was just arriving in Indiana and about to interrupt Hoosier Hysteria and March Madness.
This week is sectional play in the state tournament. A year ago, gyms were packed with possibly deadly consequences. Now the crowds are back in limited numbers.
Class 4A, Sectional 10 was played at Lawrence Central High School last year and sold out for the Friday night semifinals. The doubleheader likely became a superspreader event for coronavirus.
North Central High School athletic director Paul Loggan was there, supporting his Panthers that night. Loggan is one of at least five people in the gym March 6, 2020 who died from COVID-19 in the weeks after the games.
His oldest son, Michael Loggan, is now a varsity assistant boys basketball coach at North Central. The family believes Paul contracted the virus at the sectional games.
"I'm ecstatic to start to see people back in gyms at contests supporting their schools,” said Loggan. “But also, in the back of your mind you always think, 'What if?' I mean, missing dad - it weighs on you. But at the same time, knowing him and those who knew him best, he would want this, and he wants to see the student athletes compete on the biggest stage."
Sectional 10 is at Arsenal Tech High School this year. Each school receives 400 tickets, all pre-sold online with no sales at the door. Masks are required with social distancing in the bleachers and seating is divided by schools.
"The IHSAA, North Central and Sectional 10 did a great job implementing COVID guidelines and making it a safe...safest environment as possible, but giving a chance to really showcase our student athletes and let people from the public come see,” said Loggan.
Indiana's first COVID-19 case was reported on March 6 last year at Community Hospital North, just a few miles away and just a few hours before the sectional semifinals tipped off at Lawrence Central.
"It's all hindsight, kind of,” said Darren Thomas, Indianapolis Public Schools director of athletics. “We knew that there was somebody in town who had it, but it's not one of those things that you necessarily know how to handle. Everyone's kind of playing it by ear and on edge at that time. But definitely it's on everybody's mind thinking back about last year and we want to make sure we're safe."
Fifty percent capacity is now allowed in Marion County gyms. That means 800 fans at Tech. The gym is cleared between games before another 800 fans can enter the gymnasium.
"That's huge,” said Thomas, “especially an atmosphere like this when we're talking about sectionals. They're playing for so much right now, and to have that support means so much to the student athletes. So, we want to make sure that they can get that in a safe manner."