End of the road for spring sports
By KEVIN ECKLEBERRY
It has only been three weeks.
When governor Brian Kemp made the expected announcement on Wednesday that public schools across the state would be closed for the remainder of the school year, that’s what struck me.
On March 11, a day that seems like it was a generation ago, I was covering a baseball game between Callaway and LaGrange, and it was a brilliant spring afternoon.
Matthew Morgan delivered a masterpiece on the mound as LaGrange beat Callaway 6-2, with hundreds of folks (remember those good ole days) enjoying the ballgame.
Were we all aware of the coronavirus at that point?
Of course we were (fist bumps were replacing hand shakes), but the idea that sports events would start to be canceled seem far-fetched.
Everything changed so quickly.
One day it was the NCAA canceling the basketball tournament including the Final Four in Atlanta, and then the professional sports leagues put their seasons on hold, and on and on it went.
Seemingly overnight, the world had changed.
It was only a matter of time before high-school sports fell victim to the wave of cancellations.
It happened on March 12, when the Georgia High School Association recommended that all sports teams cease operations immediately. Later that day, the Troup County School System sent out a memo announcing that all sports activities in the county would be suspended.
The following day (fittingly it was Friday the 13th), the school board decided to close the schools for at least two weeks, and you know the rest of the story.
What seemed inevitable happened on Wednesday afternoon when governor Brian Kemp canceled school for the remainder of the school year.
While that didn’t officially signal the end of the spring sports seasons, everyone knew what was coming. The Georgia High School Association held a meeting on Thursday morning, and executive director Robin Hines announced that the spring sports seasons were over.
So here we are.
As I write this, it’s 67 degrees, the sun is shining, and it’s a fantastic day to get out and watch a game.
Instead, when I put the sports section to bed, I’ll head straight home to bunker in and wait this thing out, along with a daughter who, like so many other seniors, will have to spend the final days of her high-school life at home, and not with her friends and classmates.
Social distancing and flattening the curve (and how I wish I’d never heard those terms) are the new reality.
Again, it’s stunning how rapidly everything changed in a matter of weeks.
My heart goes out to the seniors on the different spring-sports teams who will be unable to finish their seasons.
These are special, once-in-a-lifetime moments that these student-athletes will be missing.
“Everybody worries about wins and losses, but those kids, they love practice, they love the bus rides, they love the locker room, and just being a part of it,” said LaGrange baseball coach Donnie Branch. “Nobody really cared about who played, it was the experience of being a part of it, and just enjoying the journey. That’s a big deal.”
That sentiment, no doubt, is one shared by all of the spring-sports teams, whether it’s baseball, soccer, golf, tennis, or track and field. All of those moments together are so precious for the seniors, because they know it’ll be over soon.
“It’s about the opportunity to get out there and work and be a part of something,” Branch said. “That’s what it’s about, whether it’s the band, or the basketball team, or the spring concert.”
Through no fault of their own, the seniors won’t be able to have that final ride, and because of the afore-mentioned social distancing, they can’t even get together.
It truly is heart-breaking.
Hopefully at some point, when it’s deemed safe, the spring teams will be able to get together and celebrate the seniors, and have some closure.
The question now is, when will sports of any kind resume?
Unfortunately, no one has the answer to that.
We can hope that by the summer the tide will have turned, but there is no guarantee of that, and there has been speculation that the fall sports could be impacted as well, and I pray and hope that’s not the case.
The best we can do is follow the directives we’ve been given, and try to keep the virus from spreading further.
It’s been said you don’t know much something means to you until it’s gone, and that has hit home with the force of a locomotive these past few weeks.
Sports is such an important part of my life, and not having it is painful, and I miss being able to watch a game, and tell the story.
I anticipate the day when I’ll be back on the sidelines, camera and notebook in hand, doing what I love to do.
Life is all about adjustments, though, and even though there are no games to cover, I’m committed to continuing to spotlight our local student-athletes, both on the high-school and collegiate levels.
These are strange days indeed, and all we can do is keep putting one foot in front of the other, and make the best of the situation, and hopefully one day we’ll be together again watching sports, and I know that’s something I’ll never take for granted again.