Arguably the best and fiercest high school basketball rivalry in Southwest Florida had all of the ingredients of a classic matchup Wednesday night with Fort Myers playing at Bishop Verot High School’s John Nevins Gymnasium.
There was just one major problem.
“The best way I could describe it is that it was like an ice skating rink,” Bishop Verot senior center Ricky Doyle said of the court conditions, which began deteriorating at the end of the first half and worsened in the third quarter.
With six minutes and 32 minutes remaining in the third quarter and his team leading 36-33, Fort Myers coach Scott Guttery called for a timeout and a discussion with Bishop Verot coach Matt Herting. They agreed to cancel the rest of what would have been their regular season openers.
Although the game will not be resumed, the two teams, which have combined for 19 district championships in the past 11 seasons, meet again Jan. 31 in the regular season finale at Fort Myers High.
Fort Myers will play host to Cape Coral at 7 p.m. Friday, while Bishop Verot will travel to East Lee County.
“On that last possession, every player on both teams slipped,” said Guttery, who graduated from Bishop Verot in 1997, served Herting as an assistant for two seasons and guided the Green Wave to a 25-5 record last season. Guttery also led the Green Wave to a 2010 state championship.
Fort Myers junior Mark Matthews, who has an increased role with senior teammate Wes Graddy out with a torn knee ligament, led the Green Wave with 16 points.
“As the game went on, the floor just kept getting slipperier and slipperier and slipperier,” Matthews said. “As a team, we wanted to finish the game.”
Herting huddled with his players in the third quarter and said to them, “Do you want to cancel the game?”
Down by 10 points at halftime but rallying within three points in the third quarter, the players all said: “No.”
“Let me rephrase the question,” Herting said. “Do any of you think this court is safe to play on?”
Not one player said yes.
“I did have mixed emotions,” said Doyle, who had a game-high 20 points and signed a letter of intent last week to play at the University of Michigan. “As players, we had adrenaline running and wanted to play. But somebody could have ended up getting hurt.”
Bishop Verot principal John Cavell said the cooling unit on the gym’s air conditioning likely wasn’t working properly. The body heat from the near-capacity crowd of almost 2,000 fans helped build up the humidity inside the gym, resulting in the slick court.
Cavell and Bishop Verot have less than a month to fix the problem. From Dec. 18 through Dec. 23, the Culligan City of Palms Classic, a 16-team, national-caliber tournament, will take place there.
“It’s unfortunate,” Cavell said. “But safety is always going to be the top priority in a situation like this.”