Spring sports canceled: What could have been

By Gary Lloyd

Like a walk-off home run in the final inning, the game is over.

Except the game never made it to the decisive seventh inning.

On Thursday, Alabama K-12 public schools were dismissed for the year due to the coronavirus pandemic, meaning students will finish the 2019-2020 school year at home beginning April 6.

“This decision has not been made lightly,” Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey said in a press conference.

Young boys watch a baseball game at Jay D. Kynerd Field at Briarwood Christian School in 2018. (photo by Gary Lloyd)

When that decision was announced, it was only a matter of time before the Alabama High School Athletic Association made its own announcement. It came in an email Friday. All spring sports have been canceled. What a gut punch for thousands of student-athletes statewide. Executive Director Steve Savarese released a lengthy statement about the decision.

“Like thousands of others, I am deeply saddened and disappointed that our schools have closed, and spring sports will not have an opportunity to finish their seasons,” Savarese said. “Even more so, I am disheartened for all student-athletes, contest officials, their coaches, families, student bodies, fans, communities, and especially our seniors. We are facing an unprecedented health crisis, but I am prayerful that the steps we are taking now within our schools and across our nation will enable all those affected to return to a sense of normalcy sooner than later.”

Savarese said that all the steps being taken now will be for naught if we each fail to do our part, things like social distancing and following recommendations of health care professionals.

“My prayer is that we will all take seriously the Alabama Department of Public Health guidelines so our families can once again return to work, visit loved ones in the hospital and nursing homes, celebrate birthdays, weddings, and births of children, visit and hold our grandchildren, shop, travel and just enjoy the simple things of everyday life we often take for granted,” he said. “Until those guidelines are lifted, we must heed these cautions thus not allowing this health issue to affect future school years.”

The ASHAA’s memo to member schools (photo courtesy of the AHSAA)

I get it. It had to be done, and it is the smart move as this virus spreads. It just sucks, especially for high school seniors playing baseball, softball, soccer, golf, tennis, and track and field. Oh, what these teams could have accomplished.

The Mountain Brook baseball team sat atop the Class 7A polls when the season ended and was even ranked nationally by MaxPreps. The Spartans, off to the best start in school history, were going to be a favorite to win the state championship.

“It truly tears me up knowing all the hard work that our whole program has put into this seasons, to have it taken away so abruptly,” Spartans head coach Lee Gann said in a letter posted on the team’s Twitter page.

Hewitt-Trussville, ranked second behind Mountain Brook, will not know what this spring could have meant as a team, but especially for head coach Jeff Mauldin and his son Tyler, a senior. Would the father-son duo lifted a blue map together?

The Spain Park softball team was undefeated when the season was canceled. The Lady Jags were the top-ranked Class 7A team and in the top five in the country. The seemingly impending battle with defending state champ Hewitt-Trussville was going to be one for the ages. Now, we can only pontificate what might have happened.

The same goes for Oak Mountain and Vestavia Hills in girls soccer, who were ranked Nos. 1 and 3 in the country by MaxPreps. And what about that Mountain Brook boys golf team? That may be one of the best high school golf squads I have ever followed. What about the tennis players who must now lay down their racquets? What about the Hoover track and field team, which was gunning for a fourth straight outdoor state title? What about the hundreds of other teams in this state?

But more than blue maps, what about the experience of it all? What about not the losses of games, but the losses of memories? What about Senior Night recognitions and families attending games? What about the student-athletes who will not go on to play collegiately?

Again, I get it. It is an unprecedented time, and these strong measures had to be taken for the safety of people in our state. But can something be done for these seniors?

Here’s what I think would be awesome, and maybe a bit outlandish.

If — and that is a big if — all this coronavirus stuff fades out sooner rather than later, could we organize what I would call a Summer Senior Sports Extravaganza in Alabama? Games of each spring sport would be played at every school’s home field, course and track. Classifications and regions don’t matter. Whoever can play and wants to play, plays. Maybe we would even get some matchups we rarely see anymore. No trophies. The games would be played to remind us just how fun they are, why we got involved in them in the first place. Communities turn out in droves. Seniors get their deserved nights of recognition and a chance to swing a bat or racquet, kick a ball, attempt a putt and run a track one last time representing their schools.

This whole ordeal has been unprecedented, and in a terrible way. Why not add to the unprecedented actions and have something amazing come from it?

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