Commentary

Swine flu halts Alabama playoffs

Updated: April 30, 2009, 8:17 PM ET
By Sheldon Shealer | ESPNRISE.com

Feelings of anxiousness, eagerness and nervousness have been replaced by disappointment and understanding as the Alabama high school soccer playoffs were officially put on hold Thursday due to possible outbreaks of swine flu in the state.

The scheduled Saturday matches featured Alabama girls' No. 1 Spain Park (Hoover) against No. 3 Oak Mountain (Birmingham) and boys' No. 1 Oak Mountain against No. 3 Hoover in second-round state playoff action.

"I think the girls are a little numb," Spain Park coach Robert Starr said. "We really wanted to get to it."

"At first I was disappointed, but again I understand," said Lauren Arnold, Spain Park's junior goalkeeper, who has verbally committed to Clemson. "This is a very serious situation."

Alabama is the second state this spring, joining Texas, to halt high school athletics due to the swine flu (or H1N1 virus) outbreak, but the only one playing soccer in the spring. Texas' soccer season concluded in early April. The Deseret News in Utah is reporting that Park City (Utah) postponed its Thursday playoff match due swine flu outbreaks in its school district. However, that decision remains district-based and is not a statewide shutdown of athletics.

At this point, no other spring soccer-playing states have postponed or canceled high school contests.

In Alabama, Starr said the second-round contests are tentatively rescheduled for Tuesday, but there's no guarantee the matches will be played if the number of swine flu cases increases in the state.

A press release issued by the Alabama High School Athletic Association indicated that all high school events were going to be shut down until at least Tuesday due to possible cases of swine flu in the Huntsville area, about 100 miles north of Birmingham.

"I got a call from [teammate] Stefan Vaziri last night at 10:30 and he asked if I was watching the news -- the playoffs are postponed," said Oak Mountain boys' standout Chandler Hoffman, who has signed with UCLA. "I thought he was messing with me. I went to the [state association] Web site and saw [the playoffs] were shut down.

"Everyone is bummed, but we're going to use [the playoff delay] to get the most training in," Hoffman added.

The Spain Park versus Oak Mountain girls' and Oak Mountain versus Hoover boys' matches not only feature high state-ranked teams, but also intense rivalries.

The Spain Park and Oak Mountain girls have met four times this season, with Spain Park winning the last three meetings while compiling a 20-1-3 record and a FAB 50 top 25 ranking. Oak Mountain is 16-4-1.

Hoover, currently 17-5-3, has pinned the only two losses on FAB 50 boys' soccer No. 27 Oak Mountain this season. Oak Mountain is 24-2-1.

Starr said he anticipates the first part of Thursday's practice will be spent explaining the situation to the players.

"I'll probably get a lot of 'I don't understand why we can't play,'" he said, since the swine flu outbreaks are considerably farther north in the state. "There's not a lot we can do about it."

As for Arnold, she is considering alternative plans to replace the once-scheduled 7 p.m. soccer match.

"I might go to the Crawfish Boil," she said, referring to a concert in Birmingham that features Katy Perry, Snoop Dogg, Everclear, and a host of other top artists. "But, I'd rather be playing, though."

Sheldon Shealer covers youth soccer for ESPNRISE.com. He can be reached at Sheldon.Shealer@espn.com.

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