Kejuan Frager was walking to class on March 12 when someone in the hallway stopped him and told him the news.
“My initial reaction was, ‘This can’t be serious,’” Frager said.
But before long his coaches on the Dr. Henry A. Wise High School boys’ basketball team sent texts to their players to confirm it: The state basketball tournaments were postponed indefinitely due to the coronavirus. Wise, a Prince George’s County school in Upper Marlboro, was scheduled to play in the Class 4A semifinals that same night.
As professional sporting events and college money-makers like March Madness were being delayed or canceled two weeks ago, so too were high school tournaments and spring sports practices. For seniors and underclassmen at public and private schools alike, there are still more questions than answers about what’s around the corner amid the pandemic — mainly, if and when they’ll get to play again.
“It’s pretty much been an emotional roller coaster,” Wise athletic director Jason Gordon said, “just kind of taking in everything as far as the precautions that are needed for what’s going on with the COVID-19 pandemic, and then having to reconcile that with the fact that you have some students who may have played their last game and may not have had the opportunity to go as far as they wanted to go.”
Players, coaches and administrators understand the importance of public health during the crisis; one high school AD contacted for this story said he did not “believe high school sports are a relevant conversation when discussing a global health pandemic.”
Zack Gibney, a senior at Our Lady of Good Counsel in Olney, Maryland who pitches on the baseball team, said that as long as COVID-19 poses a risk to people’s health, baseball is secondary to him. But he can’t help but wonder what will happen to his senior season, what this all could mean for the end of his competitive baseball career. The 2020 season would have been his only full season playing varsity.
“I would love nothing more than to get at least a few games in this season, but I’m also a realist and see the severity of the situation at hand,” Gibney said.
The day sports cancellations began pouring down from high school to the pros, Good Counsel had a baseball scrimmage scheduled with Quince Orchard High School. With reality starting to sink in, Gibney emailed his mother to say there was a chance this could be his last high school game. Both his parents made it out, and coach Tim Park made sure Gibney and the team’s four other pitchers each got some time on the mound. The teams agreed to stretch the game to 10 innings to extend individuals’ playing time.
“I remember talking to a few of my teammates in warmups, and everyone sort of had the same attitude of disbelief and shock that this might be our last time on the field,” Gibney said. “In short, it didn’t feel real.”
Spring sports and other school activities are suspended for as long as school campuses are closed. In Maryland and the District, that time frame was extended this week to April 24. The Virginia High School League — which canceled its basketball tournaments rather than postponing them — announced this week it will not make a decision about the fate of spring sports until May.
Acknowledging that the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association has a difficult job ahead, Gordon said he believed the administrative body will do all it can to arrange the completion of the state basketball tournaments and some condensed seasons for spring sports like baseball, softball, lacrosse and tennis.
“Coaches have to go through the balancing act of trying to help their seniors find a postsecondary home with also trying to stay mentally engaged in the fact that they’re still involved with the season,” Gordon said. “You don’t necessarily know whether or not you’ll have to flip the switch and get back into season mode, even though your routine has been broken.”
Players, too, must stay in shape amid the uncertainty while they continue to attend school from home via distance learning. Frager said he’s cut out sweets and is drinking water “all day, every day.” Gibney is doing workouts at home suggested by Good Counsel’s strength and conditioning coach.
For some seniors especially, the resumption of seasons or tournaments means the restoration of their final shot at glory. Even if makeup dates must be pushed beyond the normal end of the school year, many athletes remain hopeful they’ll get to return.
“I hope the game goes on,” Frager said. “I don’t mind playing it in June. I just want the game to be played.”
Copyright © 2020 The Washington Times, LLC.