On March 12, North Jackson softball coach Kevin Thompson witnessed one of the team’s players enjoy a career-best game.
Instead of seeing a smile on that player’s face in the post-game huddle after an important Class 4A Area 14 victory, Thompson saw tears in her eyes.
“Heartbreaking,” Thompson said.
With COVID-19 (coronavirus) beginning to spread, players and coaches in high school spring sports began to fear that their seasons would be cut short. On Thursday, those fears were realized.
As confirmed COVID-19 cases in the state continue to increase, Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey, along with State Schools Superintendent Dr. Eric Mackey and Dr. Scott Harris with the Alabama Public Health Department, announced during a press conference in Montgomery that Alabama public schools would remain closed through the end of the scheduled school year while utilizing online instruction for students.
That announcement also meant that high school sports, which had been sidelined since March 17, will not resume.
“Sports have a big impact on us and there are lessons to learn from them,” said Scottsboro baseball coach Jess Smith, “but it’s hard to find a positive right now. Hopefully there will be a positive show itself. It’s a tough deal, especially for our seniors. I thank them for all they’ve done and congratulate them for all they’ve accomplished. (But) it’s tough to tell them it’s over.”
Pisgah senior softball player Jaden Burgess went into the season looking to try to help her team repeat as Class 3A state champion. But now, that goal is gone after just 11 games.
“It’s just hard to cope with,” she said. “I don’t want to accept it, but now I’ve really got to. I’ll look back (on my career) and think of all the good times, the two (state) championships, the three runner-up finishes. I’m happy with the results, but not satisfied with the end.”
Scottsboro senior baseball player Dalton Wood said he remained hopeful during Gov. Ivey’s original two-plus week school closure that spring sports would resume.
“I wish Gov. Ivey hadn’t made that aggressive of a decision, maybe given us until April 24 to see. But ultimately that was the decision,” Wood said. “We understand the big picture of it, but it still doesn’t lessen the hurt. We’ve worked so hard for our season and then it’s gone. Hopefully all the underclassmen will see this and know it can be taken away and play like they’re on borrowed time. Never take it for granted.”
North Sand Mountain senior Jayden Culpepper has been hit three-fold by the spring sports shutdown. Culpepper is a starter on the NSM baseball team, a distance runner for Bison’s track and field team and a member of the school’s fishing team. Culpepper said he held out a slim hope that spring sports would return but really did not expect them to resume.
“The last couple innings of my last (baseball) game, then my last fishing tournament the next day, I just thought about was this was going to be the last time I got to do this with my friends. Sure enough it was,” he said. “It’s rough knowing it ends this way.”
Scottsboro track and field athlete Ben Gossett felt the same as Culpepper.
“I’m still training and would love to run another meet,” Gossett told the Sentinel on Wednesday while being interviewed for a future story, “but I’m not expecting to. I’m OK with it. I’m really thankful for the time I’ve had. It all happened so fast. We’ve got our eyes set on state, and in a matter of two or three days, the season was gone.”
Scottsboro senior soccer play Hal Leighton was not surprised by Thursday’s announcement. That did not, however, soften the blow of the news.
“I kind of expected it with the numbers (of cases) rising,” Leighton said. “I was hoping it wouldn’t be this way, but life isn’t fair and we (seniors) just have to be there for each other. It’s really heartbreaking. You never would expect this. But it’s reality, even if it doesn’t feel like reality. Life is going to smack in the face. You’ve just got to handle it.”
Pisgah head coach Billy Duncan said he hated the situation for all spring sports athletes, especially seniors who “have waited for this year. You always look back at your senior year. We’re all kind of at a loss for words with it. It’s something nobody’s ever experienced.”
Postseason play for AHSAA spring sports were scheduled to begin as soon as April 13-15 with tennis sectionals. The Alabama Student Angler Bass Fishing Association state fishing championship tournament, scheduled for May 1-2 at Goose Pond Colony in Scottsboro, has been canceled while the Alabama High School Bass Nation Tour has not released any word on its future tournaments past the June 5 official ending of school.
NSM fishing coach Jeremy Moore said the ASABFA told its members it hoped to hold its state championship tournament later in the summer.
“(The ASABFA) said they’d work on a plan to try to still hold a championship,” Moore said, “but I’m not sure how that would play out. Just have to wait and see if schools are opened back up and extracurricular activities could start back. It’s hard to plan anything right now.”
The loss of spring sports means that numerous teams will miss out on playoff appearances and area, sectional, regional and state championship pursuits.
Scottsboro track and field coach Luke Robinson’s teams were chasing a bit of history as both the girls and boys track and field teams were looking to complete “double triple crowns” by posting Class 5A state-title sweeps of cross country, indoor and outdoor track and field.
“Feel extremely bad for the kids, especially seniors,” Robinson said. “Our boys and girls, they had a good shot at doing something historic — we were favored pretty big at state and no doubt in my mind would’ve come back with two blue (state championship) trophies — and to have that taken away by something out of your control is difficult. We all understand the reason. We aren’t against it (and) it makes sense to do it, but that doesn’t make it any easier. It was the right thing to do, but it’s still tough.”