Holtville senior Hunter Martin has worked tirelessly from one sport to the next during his high school career. His final season started off nicely as he helped lead the Bulldogs into the top 10 of Class 4A and they had goals to go even higher by the time the postseason arrived.
Just 13 games into the year, Martin had the same feeling many high school students throughout the county had.
“It was shocking,” Martin said. “You never see this coming. In all the years playing baseball, you are looking forward to your senior year and to have this happen was hard.”
Athletes around Elmore County echoed that sentiment as seasons were cut short by the AHSAA due to the growing concerns surrounding the coronavirus.
The announcement of a two-and-a-half-week suspension came Friday, March 13, but it took some time for the news to fully sink in.
“It still hasn’t really had a chance to sink in yet,” Wetumpka’s Kyle Morrison said. “We have worked since August for this. We were on a roll for a whole then this just hit.”
That feeling was even more difficult for the seniors who may be facing the end of their careers at the high school level.
“I don’t think it really hit me until earlier this week,” Tallassee senior Anslee Osborne said. “I cried a couple of times but I didn’t really believe it was happening. It helps having each other though because we’re so close. We are still acting like we are going to play and we are staying positive.”
Osborne is one of seven seniors on Tallassee’s softball team and the Tigers have good reason to be hurting more than most as they were primed for a run at the Class 5A state title. The Tigers, who were ranked No. 1 in the latest ASWA rankings, want to stay focused on their goals as long as there is hope of getting back on the field.
“That’s probably the hardest part,” Tallassee senior Sally Shipman said. “We know what we came into the season to accomplish. The thought of not being able to finish out the season is heartbreaking. I think we can win the state if we get the chance.”
Getting the chance to return to the field is one of the many ‘ifs’ around the spring sports season right now. The uncertainty is not easy to deal with but Shipman said she and her teammates are trying not to think about that right now.
The Tigers are one of several teams focusing on the possibility of returning to the field this season.
If teams do get the chance to play again, they want to make sure to not skip a beat and Martin was clear on how he is helping the Bulldogs stay on task.
“Nothing changes,” Martin said. “You still have to practice and workout every day even if you have to do stuff from home. We are still bonding with each other even when we can’t be together like we used to. We know what we have to do if we want to be successful if it does come back.”
It is easier said than done to keep the positivity about the team, especially for seniors like Elmore County’s Kendall Downey.
After two years of dealing with injuries keeping her out of soccer and basketball games, Downey was set to enjoy a full season on the pitch but these new circumstances have cut into her time once again.
“I was very disappointed and all of that I’ve been through just makes it harder,” Downey said. “It’s my senior season and to know it can end like this, it’s just upsetting. We just have to pray. I hope it won’t be canceled but if it is, I know everything happens for a reason.”
With seniors facing the reality of a shortened final season, some younger leaders have taken on the responsibility of keeping everyone optimistic in the meantime. Elmore County junior Mackenzie Stephens is one of the team captains along with Downey and she knows she has to step up during this time.
“When we first heard about it, we were really sad,” Stephens said. “We are still grateful for the games and the memories we made so far. We have to remind them of the good times we did have. We have to stay positive and obviously we all hope to we can get back to play.”
To many seniors, this season was about more than just one year as they hoped more recognition and exposure would set them up for a chance to play at the next level. Whether or not the season gets canceled, those seniors are relying on their teammates and friends for the encouragement to push through whatever happens next.
“It was like a bad dream,” Wetumpka sophomore Noah Jones said. “I feel terrible for them. Some of them needed this season to get recruited. I’m just trying to keep them positive because this could be it. We have to keep them up and level headed.”
Even with everything they are having to deal with on their own end, the seniors are still finding ways to be leaders for their teammates. They may not know if they will ever play together again but that has not stopped them from being a role model to others.
“It’s just about the words of encouragement and that’s the biggest thing,” Martin said. “We have a young team so that’s important. As seniors, if we still have faith, the younger guys will still have faith. I have faith we’re going to get our shot and that’s what is holding me together.”