As East Wilkes Head Softball Coach Derrick Hill addressed his team following Thursday’s night game with South Caldwell, the look on his players’ faces said it all.
It was a look of uncertainty.
The North Carolina High School Athletic Association made the decision around 2:30 p.m. Thursday to suspend all spring sporting events after Friday due to recent outbreak of COVID-19 (also known as the coronavirus).
The suspension is tentatively set to go until at least April 6. But on Friday, during a conference call with other media members, NCHSAA Commissioner Que Tucker stated that date, “it’s in Jell-O.”
She also stated the decision to resume high school athletics in North Carolina would be dependent on the status of the coronavirus and guidance of the government.
“Yesterday’s events and the decisions that we made were certainly uncharted,” said Tucker. “Our board of directors kicked that around pretty much all day yesterday; finally got to a point where we needed to go all in with this.
“(The decision to suspend sports statewide) provides equity across the state for all member schools. One school system is not doing one thing while another is doing something else.”
As Hill looked around, he struggled to find the words. But when his players asked what they could do, he emphasized working out in a group somewhere, anywhere.
“Assuming that we get to come to school, I think we’re going to have some meetings in my room and talk about softball and explain to them that you’ve got to go to the cage and get somebody to pitch to you,” said Hill. “I can’t do it but you’ve got to stay active, you’ve got to go with mom or dad and throw some.”
Many teams, like the Cardinals had just started regular season play. The first date that teams could play spring sports was March 2.
Following Thursday’s game, East Wilkes was scheduled to begin Mountain Valley Athletic Conference play tonight against West Wilkes.
“It’s a tough situation; it’s tough to figure out what we’re going to do and the date could very well change,” said Hill. “We’ve played three games, so between now and then we’re probably missing 10 and some of those are nonconference. But when we come back, we’re going to have to get rid of all of our nonconference games and just try to play the conference games and see what happens.”
Colby Shell, the first-year head softball coach at Wilkes Central, and the rest of the Eagles were just four games into regular season schedule.
Central was scheduled to open up MVAC play tonight at North Wilkes. It was supposed to be the Vikings’ home opener.
Technically, the Eagles had yet to play a true home game as their home field in Moravian Falls was in the process of being reseeded. Central, which had played its first two homes at Lowe’s Parks at Rivers Edge (as had Wilkes Central soccer) was scheduled to host East Wilkes Friday in its first true home game.
“I myself have mixed feelings at the moment. I want to say first that I do understand the danger of all of this and I think the proper precautions are being taken. Being a first year coach and having to lead my team through this whole ordeal is hard,” said Shell. “Everyone was just finding their stride together and now we have three weeks apart. I am telling my players to do all they can individually to be the most prepared they can be for when we continue our season.
“Everyone will essentially be facing this three-week break so it is still an even playing field,” added Shell. “I look forward to when the season can safely resume, just as I know my players do.”
Head Coach Drew Ward and the West Wilkes baseball team went through its normal schedule on Thursday as it practiced following its win over East Surry last Wednesday.
But as news of the suspension broke, the atmosphere around Thursday’s practice changed very quickly, according to the ninth-year head coach.
“It has not been a good last couple of days. We started practice yesterday knowing that we would only have one more day together, that being today (Friday),” said Ward. “Players were upbeat because they had something to work for but it was the most eerie feeling not knowing what was going to happen and realizing we only had what was in front of us guaranteed to be left in our season.”
That eerie feeling ultimately changed to disappointment near the end of Thursday’s practice as the Blackhawks found out their game at West Forsyth, which was scheduled for Friday night, had been cancelled.
While the game being cancelled hurt, the meaning behind why the game was being played, went beyond what the final score may have said.
“We understood, even if we weren’t happy about the decision by the NCHSAA, why things were happening this way,” said Ward. “However, by the end of practice, we received word that our Local Education Agency had decided to shut us down for three weeks starting on Friday, which meant we had to cancel our game at West Forsyth. The game itself was big, but it was also scheduled to be a special cancer night benefitting a young girl and her family; now it would have to be cancelled. That decision was very, very frustrating.”
Like the rest of the Wilkes County baseball and softball teams, North Wilkes’ baseball team was scheduled to open up MVAC play tonight. They were also scheduled to travel to Bishop McGuinness on Monday night.
After the news broke, North Wilkes Head Coach Dwayne Berrier and the Vikings weren’t exactly sure how to feel about the situation.
But Berrier emphasized that certain things were out of their control.
“This is sort of surreal and not many know how to feel right now. The news of the suspension of the season has left us all with somewhat of a numb feeling,” said Berrier. “No one likes the situation, but it’s one we can’t control and we have to respect the tough decision made to try to protect us all and keep us safe.”
Notes: Look for more reactions and stories on the situation, including reactions from Wilkes County athletic directors and MVAC Commissioner Marc Payne, in upcoming editions of the Wilkes Journal-Patriot.