Coronavirus Puts Senior Sports Seasons in Jeopardy

Jun 19, 2018; Omaha, NE, USA; A general view as the tarp covers the field during early morning rain before the game between the Mississippi State Bulldogs and the North Carolina Tar Heels in the College World Series at TD Ameritrade Park. Mandatory Credit: Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

The coronavirus has not only impacted professional athletes and fans who treasure sports. The fast-growing pandemic has also burdened high school and collegiate athletes— especially seniors, who are missing the final year of their respective sports.

Nearly every school across the country has closed due to the COVID-19 crisis, and that means athletes are forced to proceed without practices or games.

As baseball, softball, lacrosse, tennis, volleyball, rowing, golf, water polo and track and field athletes sit in the comfort and safety of their home, they know that they are maturely avoiding the public, but they also know their equipment is lying around waiting to be used.

While athletes are doing their best to continue practicing in isolation, remote learning and the lack of teammates or peers to practice with challenges that attempt.

“Since we can’t play as a team or hold a captains’ practice, I have mostly just been trying to get a little exercise in,” says Annabelle, a senior who plays defense on the varsity lacrosse team at North Atlanta High School in Atlanta, Ga. “The whole online school thing is more difficult to get used to than I originally thought, so I haven’t been able to do as much lacrosse as I probably should be doing.”

Annabelle has been playing lacrosse for six years and is considering playing on a club team when she attends Georgia Tech next year.

Ethan Diogo, a discus-thrower on the varsity track and field team at Paul VI High School in Haddonfield, N.J., says he has “spent a lot of time working out at home and running to stay in shape since the gyms are closed.” 

In regards to when he first heard the news regarding sports and school being shut down, Diogo says, “I was in denial for a couple of days. It didn’t seem real. … Once I started hearing about all the other schools shutting down and then the NBA shutting down, it really hit me.”

For Cole Shearer, a senior who plays first base for Connellsville High School in Connellsville, Pa., he has lost access to his teammates but is still fortunate to have access to a baseball field and equipment.

“Thankfully, I am within walking distance to a baseball field, so my little brother and I have been there to hit and throw,” said Shearer, who will play baseball for West Virginia Wesleyan College.

Steven Rissotto, a journalist and relief pitcher at Archbishop Riordan High School in San Francisco, Calif., was planning on continuing to practice similarly as Shearer, but the decline in his home state made that impossible.

“Before Governor Gavin Newsom ordered a shelter-in-place in California, I was regularly going to a nearby park with about 10 teammates to get some work in,” Rissotto said. “We would hit, throw bullpens, take ground balls. Since the order has been put in place, it’s been hard to do anything.”

The impact of the coronavirus and the threat of it impacting the spring season didn’t become apparent until early in March. Everything went downhill from there.

First, the NCAA canceled March Madness, as well as the remainder of all winter and spring sports seasons. Not long after, Utah Jazz star Rudy Gobert tested positive for coronavirus, forcing the NBA to suspend their season indefinitely. The NHL and MLS followed suit not long after as they, too, put their seasons on pause. The XFL announced they were ending their inaugural season, while MLB canceled Spring Training and postponed the start of their season indefinitely.

“Abundance of caution” is the phrase that continues to be spoken by schools, athletic conferences, professional teams, business owners, and government officials.

For spring sport athletes, such an abundance of caution forced them to put their equipment away almost as fast as they began practicing.

“We were preparing for a practice when our coach brought us all in and broke us the news,” Shearer said. “We all knew it was coming but when it actually came, I was in disbelief. I got a little emotional knowing that was probably the last time I would stand on my home field.”

Shearer says his team convinced their coach to let them play one final scrimmage, and that was the last time the group was together.

Adding to that emotional feeling, Rissotto explained a series of painful thoughts that crossed his mind at one point. “When I realized how significant the virus was spreading, a quick thought told me that I might have played my last baseball game ever, and that tore me up.”

For Annabelle, she was forced to deal with the news regarding the suspension of her season during a game.

“It was March 12 and my school announced that they would be canceling school for two weeks right at the beginning of our game,” she said. “We found out at halftime that it was true and that’s when it all sort of hit that this could be my last game. … It was kind of a weird moment because the other team had some players that were crying, but it hadn’t set in for me yet. We all went back out on the field like normal and started the game, but I remember going up to the other defensive players and saying something like, ‘This can’t actually be the last game we play.'”

The situation was similar for Rissotto. For him and his team, the news also struck right around game time. “We were in the middle of our warm-ups before a night game. Right before we took [the field], we found out that our game was canceled because someone’s parent at our school had tested positive. It was tough, but I think everyone understood why.”

As online learning continues and the country’s hungriest and most passionate athletes are forced to stay inside, these players hope for a change in the course of the virus. But in reality, as every day passes, the world is beginning to be forced to realize that there is no end in near sight.

The four varsity athletes mentioned here all live in different states with different logistical plans in place for a continued season. While all four are hopeful for a chance to keep playing the sports they love, they acknowledged that the next two to three months look bleak in terms of a possible resolution or breakthrough that would allow them to return to school and sports.

The world can overcome this pandemic, but it is unclear if it will happen fast enough for our nation’s top high school and college athletes to grace their fields and stadiums again.

Perhaps Rissotto sums it up best with his journalistic touch: “I’m disappointed that my senior season could be canceled and I won’t get to go to war with my teammates. I never thought my career could end this way.”

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