As a freshman at Ouray School, Judah Preston discovered what it’s like to play in a high school state basketball tournament in front of a packed house, to feed off the crowd’s energy.
Last week, he found out, with the same stakes on the line, what it’s like to play in front of virtually no one.
High school basketball teams across all five classification in Colorado, including Ouray, competed in front of nearly empty arenas last weekend. Then, before champions could be crowned, they watched their seasons end abruptly over concerns about the outbreak of the COVID-19 virus.
With a victory in the regional tournament two weeks ago, the Trojan were sent off to the state tournament with much fanfare on March 11. Ouray was one of eight teamsin the Class 1A tournament scheduled to play at University of Northern Colorado in Greeley.
For Dan and Alyssa Preston, it offered an oppurtunity to get the whole family together for a trip. His brother, J.P got time off from his job at the Ouray Brewery. His brother Caleb flew up from Arizona.
The family had gathered for dinner out the night of March 11 when Judah called Alyssa. Bad news, he said. Nobody was allowed to attend Ouray’s first palyoff game the afternoon of March 12. Alyssa thought her prankster son was playing a joke on her.
“OK, what do you need? How much money do you need? I totally blew if off,"she said.
Mom I'm serious, Judah insisted.
"We paid our bill and left the restaurant," Alyssa said "We didn't even finish our dinner."
Then, a sliver of light: The Colorado High School Activities Association altered its mandate. Each player could have four guests attend the game.
Alyssa said Ouray’s cheering section tried to be as loud as possible. But with that group, top-seeded Kit Carson's fans, and friends and family of the two teams scheduled to play the next game, there were fewer than 100 people sitting in a gymnasium whose capacity is nearly 3,000.
"It was very echo-y." she said. "It was cavernous to say the least."
Judah acknowledged it was strange atmosphere — to have a great play greeted with virtually no reaction. And he admitted if affected him, as he didn’t want it to.
"I really wanted to puy my head down and stay focused on what we went there no do. I'm not going to lie, it did kind of throw it off." he said.
The Trojans lost to Kit Carson 47-38. The rest of the tournament was canceled after that.
As disappointing as it was to end his senior season in that fashion, Judah said he and his teammates kept things in perspective. He said they know the coronavirus is a big deal, that’s it’s bigger than them.
“We all understood that certain measures had to be taken to control all of what’s going on. We understood that, he said. “We didn’t really hang our heads and sulk on the bus ride home. We showed everybody in Ouray that we made it to state."