Once the new coronavirus hit the sports world, the dominos quickly started falling as games and events across the country were canceled and postponed due to the pandemic. The professional level took drastic efforts first with the NCAA and other colleges following suit so it was just a matter of time before COVID-19 had an effect at the high school level.
While it was unclear how long the season was going to continue, teams continued to take the field for some big games including a Class 6A Area 5 softball showdown between Stanhope Elmore and Wetumpka. With emotions running higher than usual, the rivalry delivered another exciting game with the Mustangs coming out on top of both teams’ final games before the suspension.
“I talked about it with my girls and said, ‘Just play like it’s your last game,’” SEHS coach Virginia Barber said. “They may shut us down so we told them this could be it. This could be the seniors’ last game and that’s out of our hands right now.”
Wetumpka coach Daryl Otwell said he did not address his team before Thursday’s game but when the remainder of the scheduled games before the break were canceled, the reality started to sink in.
“After we played Stanhope, we got word we could play up until Tuesday,” Otwell said. “I thought it was great because maybe we could have one more home game. But more cases were discovered and we found out we would pretty much be done. It’s just a crazy situation and it’s stuff out of our control.”
The AHSAA released a statement saying it will reevaluate the status of spring sports on April 6 but there are growing concerns among coaches the resumption of the season may never come. That uncertainty is difficult for teams to deal with and it has become an issue when relaying information to the players.
“The frustrating part is you don’t know what to expect,” Otwell said. “As a coach, you have to tell players to stay active and stay in shape but that’s hard with the schools being shut down. You don’t know whether to be prepared to play or if this is going to be it. When I talked to the girls, I just told them you never know when your last game will be. This could be a teaching moment.”
The Tallassee baseball and softball teams did not get any other games in after the AHSAA announced its plan. The Tigers had more games scheduled at the beginning of this week but Tallassee City Schools closed for the entire week, forcing all athletic events to stop sooner than the state’s March 18 deadline.
“We didn’t really know what decisions were going to made after that,” Tallassee baseball coach Adam Clayton said. “We were hoping to play some more but our administration felt it was safer to not get a group together and we wanted to go with that decision.
The softball team was set to compete in another big tournament, traveling across the county for the PCA tournament in Millbrook. The Tigers were hoping to continue their winning streak and defend their No. 1 ranking but their momentum was stopped by the suspension.
“It’s very tough on the girls,” Tallassee softball coach Pat Love said. “They worked so hard all offseason to play for this. The first few weeks got caught up in the rain and then this happened. It’s just tough to see so many disappointing girls on this team right now.”
Love said he saw the decision coming and was fortunate enough to have a talk with his team prior to Thursday’s game against Dadeville.
“When they canceled the college game, we knew this could be our last game,” Love said. “I told them play like it and they did that. That’s about all I can say: Just to keep your head up and keep working. You have to prepare like you will get back on the field and I hope we get that chance.”
During the break, teams are restricted from games, practices and workouts and Clayton said that makes things more challenging for the coaching staff. He said everyone wants to return to the field but there is too much uncertainty and he doesn’t have a lot of answers for his players about what the next step is right now.
“It’s the whole mantra about sometimes life throws you a curveball and you aren’t ready for it,” Clayton said. “It’s going to be difficult if it comes to that point, especially with this group of seniors. It’s just difficult with this uncertainty because I can’t answer those questions.”