It turns out that the greatest game -- that wasn't even a game -- was canceled anyway.
A scrimmage that would have had No. 1 large school Timon/St. Jude playing at No. 2 large school Niagara Falls Monday was canceled by the home team over concerns that it might be an illegal game.
Once area fans -- especially those in the Falls and South Buffalo -- got word that two of the area's best teams were going to take each other on, the buzz became too loud for Niagara Falls coach and athletic director Dan Bazzani.
"I was getting calls; one guy who works in our office went down to the post office and two guys asked him about it, and when (WKBW-TV sports anchor) John Murphy called, I knew it got out of hand," said Bazzani. "It was like a circus. I could have wound up putting our team in a dangerous position."
Bazzani said Section VI officials advised against the scrimmage because it may have been construed as a 21st -- and illegal -- regular-season game. New York State regulations limit public schools to 20 regular-season games.
"For it to be a scrimmage, you can't keep score, you're not supposed to allow spectators and have it be a controlled scrimmage type of thing," Bazzani said. "I wouldn't have been able to keep parents and fans out, and it could have been looked at as a 21st game.
"It was amazing the interest we were getting for a scrimmage. I had principals and all sorts of people coming up to me. It's too bad we didn't have one game left -- we could have sold the place out."
Bazzani hadn't even planned to tell his players about it until they walked into the gym Monday afternoon.
"I was going to have them come in to practice (Monday) and then all of a sudden have Timon come in and here we go," Bazzani said.
Bazzani was eager to have his Wolverines -- who are ranked fourth in the state in Class A and have been rarely challenged in a 21-0 season -- take on a team the caliber of Timon (23-1), the state's No. 2 Class B school. Niagara Falls is constricted by a 16-game regular-season schedule in the nine-team Niagara Frontier League, and it easily passed all of its non-league tests: beating St. Francis (by 22), Notre Dame of Ontario (17), Clarence (28) and Williamsville East (27).
"It would have been a good test because no one's really taken us to the fourth quarter," said Bazzani, who planned to have real referees on hand for the scrimmage. "I told my guys that each playoff game we play will be the toughest we've played all year."
Niagara Falls will face Orchard Park in Thursday's A-1 semifinals at 6 p.m. Timon/St. Jude doesn't play until the Manhattan Cup semifinals vs. Canisius at 3 p.m. Sunday.
Heaping helpings of hoops
That's more than enough fussing about a non-played non-game -- especially this week. There are great matchups to fill up every day in a hoop fan's calendar:
Tonight: Here's a chance to catch three of the area's best boys teams, back-to-back-to-back at Buffalo State. Two-time defending Class C public school state champion and top-ranked small school Traditional starts the evening off against Yale Cup rival Burgard at 5:45 p.m. No. 4 large school Seneca then meets defending B champion Iroquois in one B-1 semifinal at 7:15, while the other has No. 5 large school Williamsville East and the Konst twins taking on gritty rival Williamsville North. And keep next Tuesday free as well. The A, B and C overall finals are back at Buffalo State in a week.
Wednesday: It's a super showdown of superpowers on the girls side as No. 2 large school Iroquois (19-3) takes on No. 3 large school Williamsville East (20-2) at 6 p.m. at ECC. Three Division I players will be on the court as Lindsay Brent (Army) leads the Flames against the Chiefs' Eva Cunningham (Niagara) and Val Jacobs (Robert Morris).
Thursday: History could be made by Christian Central Academy's Tawan Slaughter during the 7:30 semifinal of the Niagara Frontier Christian Athletic Association (vs. the winner of tonight's Victory Christian-Charles Finney winner) at St. Mary's School for the Deaf. Slaughter is just 16 points away from the all-time Western New York scoring mark of 1983 Franklinville graduate Laura Hughes (2,196).
There's also Msgr. Martin Association girls semifinals at Villa Maria, boys A-1 semifinals featuring separate appearances by Niagara Falls and No. 3 Jamestown at Buffalo State and the Traditional girls shooting for the C-1 title against Salamanca at ECC.
On the weekend, local high school fans can check out several local alums participating in March Madness in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Tournament at HSBC Arena.
For the men, there's Jamestown's Maceo Wofford (Iona), Southwestern's Justin Miller (Siena), Timon/St. Jude's Sean Kelley (Manhattan), Orchard Park's Brian Dux (Canisius), LaSalle's Dewitt Doss (Canisius), Canisius' Darren Fenn (Canisius), McKinley's Hodari Mallory (Canisius), Tonawanda's Tom Perkovich (Canisius) and Olean Walsh's Andrew Bush (Canisius).
For the women, there's Holy Angels' Dana Fitchlee (Niagara), Fredonia's Kathy Meder (Niagara), Sacred Heart's Marisa Sirianni (Niagara) and Traditional's Alohndra Brown (Canisius).
But that doesn't mean there aren't some terrifically tempting tip-offs in the tournaments in which many of those players once starred in:
Friday: After another likely Traditional appearance in the C-1 final, enjoy the busloads of boosters from tiny schools (D and C-2) that go big time in boys finals at Buffalo State.
Saturday: Take your pick and roll to any of four boys championships at Buffalo State and four girls championships at ECC.
Sunday: Check out the Msgr. Martin boys semifinals to see if St. Francis (which plays Turner/Carroll at 1 p.m.) or Canisius (vs. Timon/St. Jude, 3 p.m.) can derail a third annual Manhattan Cup meeting of the Tigers and the Chargers.
Monday: No high school games. Go shoot some hoops.
Tuesday, March 6: Another slam dunk -- boys tripleheader of overall A, B and C championships at Buffalo State or the Msgr. Martin girls title game at Villa Maria.
No boycott by Chargers
Turner/Carroll will indeed be on the court for the Manhattan Cup tournament.
The school was considering a boycott of the Msgr. Martin Association championships to protest what it feels is an unfair process the league uses to classify its teams for the state playoffs.
"We collectively decided we would play," Turner/Carroll coach Fajri Ansari said of a decision that involved the school's board of trustees as well as parents and players. "We never not wanted to play. It would have wound up hurting the kids in the long run, and we didn't want them to be denied any more opportunities than they already are. We just don't want the league to think things are OK."
Turner/Carroll contends that the league's system of classifying teams is unfair to small schools.
Canisius is the only team of the Association's League AA (large schools) to be considered a C school, while Turner/Carroll is the only League A (small schools) team to be considered a B school.
By advancing further than the only other C school to qualify for the Manhattan Cup playoffs (St. Mary's, which lost its quarterfinal to St. Francis), Canisius (11-13) -- which was voted the No. 10 large school this week -- earned the Msgr. Martin's Class C berth for the state tournament. Last year, Canisius advanced to the state Federation Class C state finals at Glens Falls with a 12-14 record.
Harder road for Msgr. Martin
Manhattan Cup fans will notice that the traditional Sunday afternoon championship game has been moved to prime time (7 p.m.) on Friday, March 9. The move was necessitated by a change in the Catholic state playoffs, which has made the road to Glens Falls a bit tougher for the Msgr. Martin teams.
For the last few seasons, the Msgr. Martin Class B and C winners have headed to Binghamton to face the New York State Catholic High School Athletic Association's downstate winner, which was determined in playoffs between the NYSCHSAA's three other dioceses (Long Island, Brooklyn and Manhattan). While the downstate schools had to win one or two games just to get to Binghamton, the Msgr. Martin teams just had to win that playoff in Binghamton to earn a berth in the Federation state championships in Glens Falls.
This year, the Long Island champions will travel to Buffalo State for a playoff against the Msgr. Martin teams on Sunday, March 11. The winners there will then move to Binghamton on March 17 to face the winner of the playoff between the Brooklyn and Manhattan teams, with that winner becoming the NYSCHSAA champion and advancing to Glens Falls.
Hasan flips to gymnastics
Alyissa Hasan, the eighth-grader who competes for Williamsville South, is booked for state championships in two different sports the next two weekends.
Hasan, who broke two Section VI records at the sectional indoor track and field championships Sunday to qualify for the March 10 state championships, will also participate in the girls gymnastics state meet Saturday at New Hyde Park on Long Island.
As if that wasn't enough, Hasan will also compete in the New Balance National Scholastic Indoor Track and Field Championships at the Armory Track and Field Center in New York City on Friday, March 9 before heading to the state meet at the Carrier Dome in Syracuse the next day.
Hasan qualified for the state gymnastics meet by tying for fifth on the floor exercise at the Section VI meet last Nov. 4. The state championships are held in March because some sections hold girls gymnastics during the winter.
"I am very thankful that everything worked out like it has," Hasan said of the two state meets falling on different weekends.
On Monday, Hasan followed some track and field training with some practice of her floor exercise routine.
"My body just has to get back in the routine (for gymnastics)," said Hasan, who broke the Section VI records in the long jump and triple jump in addition to winning the 55-meter dash Sunday. "It's very time-consuming, but it's something I choose to do so I have to take responsibility for keeping up with both sports and with grades, too."
Gymnastics title on the line
Section VI girls gymnastics is aiming to defend its state title Saturday at New Hyde Park, Long Island, and coordinator Donna Aquino thinks this year's team could be stronger than last year's.
"Last year, we had depth -- this year, we have girls who could win state titles in individual events," said Aquino, the coach at Lancaster. "That would be great. We haven't had that happen since Lew-Port's Rachel Malinowski did it (vault, 1994)."
This year's team is bolstered by Section VI all-around champion Shani Andrews of Clarence, who joins fellow elite gymnast Amy Cucinotta (Amherst), who was second on vault and third on floor in last year's state meet.
If Section VI can defend its title, it will have home-gym advantage next year. The 2002 state championships have been awarded to Section VI, and will be held at Kenmore West next March.
Around the halls
Word out of Section V has the Rochester schools possibly seeking to remove their Catholic schools from the section. Currently, Section VI is the only upstate section that excludes Catholic schools. . . . WJJL-AM will broadcast Sunday's Explorer Club hockey league championship between McKinley and Hutch-Tech at 2 p.m. live from Buffalo State.