“When kids enter high school, you know that you’re only going to have them for four years and you just enjoy it while you have them.”
Retired Wilkes Central Head Boys Soccer Coach Mike Sloan said that in a 2011 interview after the Eagles saw their season end in the North Carolina High School Athletic Association soccer playoffs.
And it’s a quote that always sticks with me when the spring sports season hits. But this year, it hit earlier than usual.
Having covered high school sports for nearly 12 years in the state of North Carolina, I’ve seen a lot of things from state championships to heartbreaking defeats and everything in between.
But the news of the North Carolina High School Athletic Association announcing the suspension of the games, practices, etc. two weeks ago due to COVID-19, was a different animal.
And many coaches have mixed emotions about it but also want to use the situation as a teachable moment.
“I am upset about the cancellation obviously, but understand that one can’t dwell on it. Helping my team stay positive during a difficult time is my goal,” said North Wilkes Head Track and Field Coach Brian Holloway. “It is extremely hard on the seniors who have worked for four years to reach where they are and now the possibility to have to forfeit all of the hard work is tough. As a team, my coaches and I try to help our athletes look beyond high school and past just these four years.
“This preparation helps in these times because this is bigger than sports or school. This pandemic is affecting this entire generation,” added Holloway. “With that being said I have put forth plans with them individually to hopefully resume full steam ahead if and when the time comes. Until then, I asked them to use the time to see the bigger picture.”
Over the days following the announcement, I dealt with the gambit of emotions from informing stringers, many of whom work for the school system, of the situation to contacting coaches, athletic director and conference commissioners to get their takes for upcoming and future stories.
But at the same time, I couldn’t help but think about who is impacted the most by this situation — the great student-athletes I have the privilege to cover.
This season should be a joyous time for them, playing the sport they’ve had a passion for since those days competing in coach pitch for Wilkes County Parks and Recreation or playing soccer for Wings of Wilkes.
And now, many of them may have played their last high school game and not even realized it. My heart goes out to the student-athletes, many of whom may never get to play a sport that they’ve had a passion for, and dedicated so much time to over their young lives.
Many may have possibly seen their senior seasons end in early March, instead of mid-May or early June.
But many coaches, like West Wilkes Head Softball Coach Michael Woodruff, are holding out hope that the season can resume in some shape.
He was adamant for the girls to continue working without him.
“We can’t just lay down. I can’t have anything to do with them, but on their own they need to be swinging the bat with somebody, doing pitching lessons, they need to be doing their things. Stay in shape, we need to pick up where we left off,” said Woodruff. “I would love to see the girls take it upon themselves to work and do that kind of thing. Would love to crank this thing back up, maybe play a few conference games and tournament, see what happens, and go from there.”
The timing of the suspension is tough for all players and coaches since most of them just started spring sports two weeks ago.
But at the same time, I realize a lot of the coaches I work with are also teachers, as well as, mothers and fathers, many with young children.
Drew Ward, West Wilkes’ head baseball coach, has two young sons at home and making sure they’re safe was a top priority.
“I am personally most worried about the health of my young sons and the students that we teach and coach,” said Ward. “It’s been difficult for everyone involved and the afternoons will continue to feel different when we can’t be out there competing and working to get better every day.”
As the recent weeks have come and gone, and the workload has dropped off considerably for this time of year (when it’s usually knee deep in baseball, softball, girls soccer, boys tennis, boys golf and track and field), it’s given me some time to think and reflect — maybe too much.
If the senior class of 2020 has indeed played their final games, let me be the first to say, it has been an honor and a privilege to cover you all over these past four years (and in some cases, longer than that).
But if the NCHSAA lifts the suspension a month-and a-half from now and gives teams the green light to resume in some shape, I’ll be there with my pad and camera in tow, ready to continue telling your stories.