By Steve Williams

High School basketball tournament time is annually remembered for pure athletic drama.

The youngsters compete through district, region and sectional games with the dream of advancing to the state tourney and capturing a gold basketball.

No money is at stake at this level. TV exposure and the size of crowds are small compared to college game’s March Madness.

Admission, parking and concession prices are reasonable.

The action is up close. That may be the best part. You can feel the joy and see the tears.

This season already has had some of the elements that make high school tourney time one of my favorite times of the sports year.

John Woodruff kept Carter’s season alive in the Region 2-AA quarterfinals last Wednesday when he stepped to the line with 2.6 seconds remaining and sank two pressure-packed free throws to force overtime against Alcoa. The Hornets went on to win 80-78.

Heritage’s Mountaineers have already danced in Cinderella’s shoes, after upsetting Maryville, the top seed in District 4-AAA.

Jon Higgins’ Central Bobcats, a No. 8 seed in District 3-AAA, won their way into the Region 2-AAA field and took a slingshot with them to Bearden.

You can be sure more nail-biters and ambushes are around the bend.

We already have a couple of different things to remember about this year’s tournament – the awful game in Rutherford County and the long string of postponements and cancellations, particularly here in Knox County. Mother Nature was responsible for the latter, but the worst of the two was man-made.

I couldn’t believe it when I heard Murfreesboro Riverdale coach Cory Barrett and Smyrna coach Shawn Middleton instructed their teams to try and lose their District 7-AAA consolation game Feb. 21 when they played against each other for the purpose of getting in the opposite bracket of top-ranked and defending state champion Blackman in the Region 4-AAA tournament.

Both teams reportedly made a mockery of the game. Over-and-back and three-second lane violations were intentionally committed. Free throws were purposely missed. Smyrna once tried to shoot the ball in Riverdale’s basket.

Smyrna won the game 55-29.

“Now I think Riverdale was the first to start, ‘Let’s lose the game,’ but both teams obviously did not want to win and it really showed,” the referee wrote in his game report.

Both teams were put out of the tournament and fined by the TSSAA. Riverdale won its third state title in four years in 2013.

The Rutherford County school system suspended both Barrett and Middleton from coaching through the end of the 2015-16 school year.

In my opinion, the suspension should be for life.

I would not want a son or daughter of mine to play for a coach who would be devious enough to pull a stunt like they did.

To be a coach is an honor and privilege and should be held by a person with good character and integrity. When it comes to teaching and guiding young people, doing what’s right is more important than winning and losing.

Barrett and Middleton misled their student-athletes and disrespected the game. They should no longer be honored by being addressed as “Coach.”

Meanwhile, this year’s Road to Murfreesboro already has been more slippier than I can ever remember, particularly for Knox County teams.

Nearly two weeks of inclement weather and icy road conditions resulted in 10 straight “snow days.”

On two or three of those days, when road conditions here appeared to be safe and games were being played at private schools in Knox County and in neighboring counties, Knox County’s policy of “no school, no game” seemed too rigid.

I applaud the Knox County school system for relaxing its protocol last week and granting autonomy to its principals to make the decisions regarding postponements.

I hope more common sense can be utilized when a decision is made regarding an individual game versus a blanket decision covering more teams and a much wider area. I also trust safety will come first when our school leaders make these decisions.

Hopefully, the remainder of this year’s tournament will be blessed with good weather, good play and good sportsmanship. Plus a buzzer-beater or two.