After a week of uncertainty and disarray, the Coral Gables boys’ basketball team had their pre-game meal and were suited up and ready to play in Saturday’s Class 7A regional quarterfinal.
Two hours before tipoff, at 4:00 p.m., school officials received an email from Miami-Dade County Public Schools which stated that they had to forfeit the match and quarantine for 14 days due to COVID-19 contact tracing.
Coral Gables defeated Miami Columbus in the Class 7A District 15 championship last Friday — February 12. In the ensuing days, a Columbus assistant coach tested positive that Saturday, followed by numerous players on Tuesday, according to Gables team member Marcus Molina.
The Gables team was immediately forced to quarantine in order to follow MDCPS regulations, which states that a student who’s been in close contact with somebody that tested positive for COVID-19 and has no symptoms is required to quarantine for 14 days from the date of their last contact with the infected person.
“We haven’t had practice, we haven’t been inside the gym, we haven’t done anything,” Molina told 305 Sports. “We’ve just been waiting to play.”
During the school week, the entire Coral Gables team, coaches included, took COVID-19 PCR tests which came back negative, according to team member Romelu Delgado.
“We all voluntarily took PCR tests and provided them to the school and the school board. We all came out negative, but they still decided to cancel our game,” Delgado said.
Delgado is also questioning whether or not Columbus’ positive COVID-19 cases should be classified as close contact.
“We played Columbus last Friday in the district championship and they reported positive tests three days after on Monday,” Delgado said. “It was more than 48 hours, and so there was a huge problem with our COVID-19 protocol at school and they forced us to quarantine when really it should’ve been out of our control by then.”
The CDC defines close contact as someone who was within six feet of an infected person for a total of 15 minutes or more over a 24-hour period starting from 48 hours before the person is feeling sick or tests positive.
While Coral Gables is unable to play, Columbus, a private school, doesn’t have to abide by MDCPS rules. The Explorers played their regional quarterfinal versus Ferguson on Saturday and won with just six players.
On the court, Gables (14-4) hadn’t lost a game in over five weeks. Prior to winning the Class 7A District title, the Cavaliers went 3-0 in the GMAC Tournament with victories over North Miami, South Miami and Columbus en route to the Gold Division championship.
“I think we were playing our best basketball all season,” Delgado said. “We’re on an eight-game win streak, we haven’t lost in the playoffs yet and we don’t think that we deserve to be taken out of the regional and state championship because of this. We’re the number one seed in our region and I think we had the best shot to make a state championship run.”
Last year, Coral Gables was upset in the first round of the district playoffs as the No. 1 seed and lost in the regional semifinals to the eventual state champion Miramar. If allowed to play, Gables is favored against Palmetto and in a rematch versus Columbus. The Cavaliers’ ticket to Lakeland, Florida, and the Class 7A final four would likely feature a contest versus Miramar (9-2) in the regional final.
Molina, a senior, transferred to Gables this season after three years at Palmetto in hopes of finally capturing his first state title.
“My dad, he’s been a state championship coach twice at Miami Christian and Hialeah Gardens,” Molina said. “I’ve grown up watching teams going and winning state championships and I’ve always wanted to do that. It’s been my dream.”
Gables has until Tuesday to play or their regional quarterfinal match will be ruled as a forfeit. However, according to a statement from the school board, a rescheduling may be out of reach.
“To ensure the well-being of students and employees, Miami-Dade County Public Schools continues to follow all [CDC] guidelines related to the quarantining of individuals, a MDCPS spokesperson told WSVN. “To assist student athletes, the District requested approval from the Florida High School Athletics Association (FHSAA) for game schedule changes for impacted teams.”
“Although the FHSAA was willing to consider the request, there were other schools outside the District that could not accommodate changing their scheduled games. Despite our attempts, this matter is now unfortunately beyond our control. This is not the outcome we hoped for and empathize with the players who will not be able to participate in these playoffs.”
Coral Gables will play their Class 7A regional quarterfinal match versus Miami Palmetto on Friday at 7 p.m.
Columbus principle David Pugh had not yet responded to a request for comment by the time of the story’s publication.