Coaches around the state gathered around their phones and laptops Thursday afternoon with the hopes of some good news regarding the spring sports season. Unfortunately, those hopes did not last long as State Superintendent of Education Dr. Eric Mackey confirmed the end of the year for all athletic events.
“I think everyone will say you kind of saw this coming,” Holtville baseball coach Torey Baird said. “It still didn’t make it any less surprising. I heard it and immediately thought about the guys. All I can do is tell them how much I appreciate them.”
After Gov. Kay Ivey announced the shutdown of public schools in Alabama, Mackey stepped to the podium and one of the first questions he received was on the remainder of the season.
“Unfortunately, for sports, for band, for many of those things, that means the end for this school year," Mackey said. "They will not be able to complete those activities.”
My class of 2020 seniors, my heart hurts for you all! However, this is a merely a short time frame in your life. It’s hard to believe that now...Don’t let it be something that dampens the flame of your future! Proud of you...love you....will always be here for you! ✊🏼❤️ #CO2020— Hunter Adams (@DrIronstein) March 26, 2020
The focus for most coaches, just like Baird, immediately went to the seniors who have had their final seasons cut short.
“I’m devastated,” Stanhope Elmore softball coach Virginia Barber said. “I just told them it’s in God’s hands. We have been saying for years to play like it’s your last game and it’s a hard pill to swallow but maybe that’s the lesson to learn from this.”
One of the biggest hurdles for coaches right now is finding a way to talk with their players. With team meetings being a part of the AHSAA’s restriction, it has been more difficult for coaches to stay connected to the players.
“How do we even get together to tell them it’s the end?” ECHS baseball coach Michael Byrd said. “It’s just tough. This is a thing you want to tell kids face to face and look them in the eyes and we don’t know if that’s going to be possible.”
“We have a group message,” Tallassee softball coach Pat Love said. “That’s where we have to tell them and it’s just a bad deal. No one can control it but it’s just unfair.”
The Tigers were set for a run at the Class 5A state title and they had seven seniors leading the way. Tallassee finished the season ranked No. 1.
“It’s shocking,” Love said. “I hate it for the girls and I hate it for the seniors. We had a special thing going on so to have it end, I’m speechless.”
Wetumpka softball coach Daryl Otwell was having a strong first year with his new program but now it has hit an abrupt end. He only got to spend a few months with the group of seniors but his first thought after hearing the news was to hurt for them.
“When you walk into a new job, you want to build a relationship with those players and they bought in,” Otwell said. “We have some that are fortunate to play at the next level but others who have played their last game. It’s tough.”
While it was difficult to focus on the positives in the moment, many coaches agreed the only way to move forward is to highlight the good part of the season and the seniors’ careers.
“Thank you for everything you have done,” Byrd said. “That’s all you can say. Sorry you don’t get the opportunity to lead for the entire year. And thank you. Not much we can do to make it any better and that’s the hard part.”
Wasn’t ready to play my last game with the guys I’ve been playing with since middle school... doesn’t seem real right now.— Conner Gregg (@connerbgregg) March 26, 2020
Stanhope Elmore’s softball team has started planning a celebration for the seniors on the field and in their uniforms even if it has to wait until July.
“This group has grown so much from the time I got here,” Barber said. “They are like our kids. I told them we’re going to still have a banquet when we’re allowed to gather again. This group has made a lot of history here and we want to remember those things.”
Barber said she has gotten inquiries from several other schools in the region and they hope to host a big event as soon as possible which could include all the other county teams as well.
“We just want to highlight what we have done so far,” Love said. “We want to highlight our seniors and our players and how far they have come. We want to keep it off the negativity.”