It was just a matter of time, but that doesn’t mean it gave everybody a chance to really mentally prepare for it. High school spring sports has been put on hold for four weeks while college spring sports have had their seasons cancelled altogether due to the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19).
“My initial reaction was like that of anyone else, I felt terrible for the athletes, coaches and families that make sports a big part of their lives,” Centerville athletic director Rich Parker said. “It was like a punch in the face it came so quick. When the NCAA tournaments were canceling and their spring seasons were canceling, I knew it didn't look promising.”
It was not long after the professional leagues and the NCAA was postponing or cancelling their seasons that Governor Kim Reynolds announced that schools would closing for four weeks, postponing the impending spring sports season for the same amount of time.
Coaches didn’t like the loss of sports and their seasons but several looked at the bigger picture and understood the decision.
“My first reaction was the safety of our student-athletes,” Indian Hills head baseball coach Matthew Torrez said after his season was cancelled by the NJCAA. “We all put a ton of time into our individual sports but we still need to keep sports in perspective and I was very concerned for the health of the players.”
Indian Hills owned a 4-11 record and was set for their home opener when Torrez dropped the news to the players.
“We played a game last Friday and on the bus coach Torrez said with how the NCAA handled things, it was a good chance that might be our last game for awhile,” IHCC sophomore pitcher, and former state champion with Centerville, Dan Hargrave said. “Our season got suspended that day and then on Monday coach announced it to us that our season was officially cancelled. It’s tough to really say how everybody emotionally was because it’s obviously the best thing to do for everybody and we need to realize that it’s about the bigger picture than one season.”
As restrictions have come out to limit the amount of contact coaches can have with their players, the players have had to adjust to make sure they are still working out and improving.
“We’ve all been able to get throwing and some workouts in while everything was still trying to be figured out,” Hargrave said. “The coaching staff has been doing as much as they can to keep us training and improving anyway that we can while monitoring how everybody is feeling health-wise and making sure too many people aren’t in the weight room at the same time.”
In one-plus years with IHCC, Hargrave finished with a 1-1 record and a 5.94 ERA to go along with 18 strikeouts in 16 2/3 innings.
The NJCAA announced that spring sports athletes will be given an extra year of eligibility and Hargrave plans to use that extra year when he transfers this fall instead of potentially returning for a third season with the junior college.
“I believe that it is still best for me to move on from IHCC and take three years of eligibility with me to Culver-Stockton,” Hargrave said.
Indian Hills has switched their classes to online only as many of the Falcons have also been trying to return home. That has caused some problems for a heavily foreign-filled team like IHCC that features a total of 14 international players from the likes of Japan, Puerto Rico, Netherlands, Spain, Venezuela, Panama and Canada.
“After the weekend we will only have five international players left on campus,” Torrez said. “A couple are having a hard time getting back to their home countries. They are able to still stay in the dorms, we have not shut down the dorms. The biggest concern is a kid that is from Spain, which has a travel ban. It’s not a visa deal, just worried about travel bans and not getting home mostly.”
The canceling of the spring season will have a huge effect not only on the athletes but also on the schools and high school seniors looking to play college sports.
“The biggest challenge is transferring to an NCAA school if they choose to use their extra year, they need to make sure they are taking the correct extra classes to be in line with the NCAA transfer rules,” Torrez said about athletes getting an extra year of eligibility. “Recruiting wise I think it is more of a challenge for the incoming freshmen that are high school seniors. There are now two classes of sophomores technically on campus and at an NCAA school there are two classes of seniors.”
Ali Enright, a former first team all-conference pitcher and third baseman for Seymour, was getting off to a strong sophomore campaign for the Southwestern Spartans when their season was canceled.
Southwestern finished last season with a 15-41 record while Enright led the team with eight home runs to go along with 36 RBIs. This year she helped SWCC build a 5-4 record in the early part of the season while sporting a 1-1 record with a 1.75 ERA in the circle.
Unfortunately, the Spartans season was canceled before their home opener.
“Since the NJCAA was one of the last ones to cancel I was sort of prepared for it,” Enright said. “Everyone around us had ended before we even postponed. No athlete wants to hear that their season is coming to an end no matter the circumstances. It adds a lot of stress on future plans. All the work we put in throughout the year doesn’t get to be shown off and so there were quite a few emotions.”
Like other spring sports athletes, Enright has been given the opportunity for another year of eligibility.
“I’m still figuring out my plans, but going back for another year is in my plans. I would be going back and getting my AA [degree], while playing another year of softball,” Enright said.
With schools transitioning to online-only classes, Enright has been able to adjust well and plans on getting her Associates Degree in graphic design this spring before returning to start in elementary education next year.
While the spring sports seasons for college sports are done, high school spring sports remain up in the air as coaches, athletes and athletic directors sit and wait to see if they will play this year.
“I am basically on hold until the IHSAA decides how to proceed,” Parker said. “I don't even want to guess how it's going to be handled. I don't envy the work they have ahead of them. Right now, everything in the sports world is ‘canceled’. Some of our activities (NHS induction, prom, graduation) we are deeming as ‘postponed’ because there is still a chance we can get those in at later dates, even into summer if we had to.”
The postponing and potential of canceling the spring season is a heartbreaking thought for several programs that were set up for potential landmark seasons.
The Centerville girls golf team has qualified for the state meet in each of the last two years and were looking to make it a fifth straight year with two experienced seniors in Taylor Shinn and Elizabeth Zintz leading the way.
“We are very disappointed that we might not have a chance to compete this spring,” Centerville head girls golf coach Matt Kovacevich said. “We had 14 girls sign up wanting the chance to be a part of a winning program that has been very successful. It is great to see those numbers climb in participation because we have had a number of outstanding seniors graduate the past few years who have put Redette golf on the map as one of the best in the state. That wouldn't of changed this spring with two seniors who have had an outstanding career to date. Shinn and Zintz are two seniors who have represented Centerville with great character and integrity during their tenure as a Redette. Obviously I feel very disappointed they might not have a chance to finish up their career with a trip to the state golf tournament.”
The Centerville girls soccer team is facing a similar conundrum. When current head coach Tony Kurimski started his first season back in 2018, he had 16 girls out for the team as the Redettes would go 0-14 while being outscored 111-4 over the course of the season.
Last year Kurimski’s Redettes improved to 7-9 while scoring a school-record 40 goals on the season thanks to freshman striker Mickey Stephens. Stephens scored 31 goals (including a school-record seven goals against Clarke) while getting selected to the second team all-state squad.
Stephens was looking to pick up where she left off while the team had a program-high 30 girls sign up for the team this year.
“It’s heartbreaking knowing that we will have a shortened season or maybe not even have a season,” Kurimski said. “So many of the girls have put in a lot of hard work this offseason. The last couple of years we’ve taken some big steps forward as a program and if we get the opportunity, we will take another big step this year. We also have some pretty special players coming into the program along with what’s coming back. As a team we feel that we can compete at the state level and I hope we get that chance.”
With students being sent home and coaches being limited to what they do with their athletes, coaches have been sending instructions to their athletes in case their season does resume this year.
Golf courses are still open in the area for the girls to get rounds in and Kovacevich isn’t too concerned that the girls should be able to get back to business should the season start.
“The advice I'm giving the girls is simple. We expect to be back on the course in mid-April. We can still go out to the club and work on our game individually and I expect the girls will do just that,” Kovacevich said.
For soccer it’s a bit tougher. A team sport like that will suffer from the missed practice time with the potential of a lot of new teammates. The girls will also have to find ways to get touches with a ball and stay in good shape for a heavy-condition sport like soccer.
“I’ve been sending out messages about taking care of your fitness, get some touches on the ball, and above all stay positive,” Kurimski said. “Continue to be ready for our season. All we have is time right now, so spend it wisely by improving yourself as a person and work on your soccer skills too.”
For now athletes will try to get individual practice time in when they can, not knowing when or if they will have a season. Things can change in the upcoming weeks but for now there is still a lot of uncertainly for whether a lot of talented athletes may be without there senior seasons, teams not being able to make their first trips to state and there may not be any state champions this spring.
“I think spring sports are likely not going to happen,” Parker said. “From what I've seen, we are still 45 days away from when this actually peaks out with number of cases. If that's true, not only will spring sports be done, the summer ones will be in jeopardy as well. I have always been the eternal optimist so I'm holding out hope that social distancing decreases the number of people getting COVID-19 quickly and we can all get back to some sense of normalcy. At this time, all of my information regarding decisions on spring and summer sports will come from the IAHSAA.”