When the N.C. High School Athletic Association announced March 13 as the final day of sports competitions amid concerns over the spread of the coronavirus, many coaches and players thought the break would be a short one.
Still, Providence baseball coach Danny Hignight took the opportunity to honor his five seniors with an impromptu senior night, even though the Panthers were playing on the road.
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At that time, the NCHSAA said April 6 would be the first day of resumed practices, but that arbitrary date is starting to look less and less likely.
So that leaves the question: Will we have a spring sports season in 2020?
There won’t be one for NCAA college athletes, and that possibility is starting to look more and more possible as social distancing has taken over the roars of the athletic fields.
“This was supposed to be our year,” Butler senior second baseman Travis Ziefert said. “It almost feels like we got robbed. It’s not over yet, but as of now it’s hard to be optimistic.”
Ziefert, like many seniors, could have played his final game without realizing it.
Butler coach Rick Sambrotto said Ziefert is a great leader and role model for the young team the Bulldogs were fielding this season.
Now all of that is in limbo, with cancellations and postponements still very possible.
“I try not to look at it like that, but it would be devastating,” Ziefert said. “For most guys, this is our final game. There is no college baseball to look forward to and even right now, you can’t watch professional sports. There’s nothing, so that makes it hard.”
The Butler team, like all others, are prohibited from training together.
One player has a batting cage in his yard, but Ziefert said he and his teammates were staying busy by practicing individually.
NCHSAA Deputy Commissioner Que Tucker hosted a conference call with media members on March 13.
Even then, she sounded like the April 6 date was certainly not a sticking point. Now, as the number of cases in Mecklenburg and Union counties rises daily, that seems even less likely.
“The hardest thing is feeling for the seniors,” Hignight said. “There’s five of them here with me, but I think you have to stay positive. My plan is we’re going to practice when April 6 rolls around and we’re going to go play some games and compete. Until that time we’re going to do whatever the state tells us to. It is what it is. Life happens for a reason.”
Tucker said most of the state’s athletic directors have expressed frustration and disappointment with the situation, but that they are also understanding like Hignight.
But as a former coach herself, Tucker feels for the senior athletes across the state.
“The biggest concern I’ve heard is about the seniors,” she said. “They aren’t able to finish out what they started three and half years ago, and I feel for them. I coached at the high school level and I had seniors who played for me. I know what it was like to play that final game in your senior season. I understand their concerns and their sensitivities toward their players.”
Providence Day girls track and field coach Carol Lawrence said her seniors were focused on repeating as state champs when they heard news the NCISAA had suspended sports indefinitely.
“The kids were not happy,” she said. “Even the ones who just started track and field were not happy with that news. The seniors have state championships on their minds. That’s the thing they’re all working on.”
The same is true for the Ardrey Kell lacrosse team, which went 20-3 last season and returned nine seniors from their state runner-up team.
One senior, all-conference football star Michael Hetzel, joined the team for the first time this spring.
“For me personally, I was really starting to get into it and enjoy it,” Hetzel said. “I was learning a new sport and coming close with the team. That’s what I feel the worst about. It’s not me, but for the seniors who have been here all four years, who went through it last year and played in a state championship game. I feel more heartbroken for them than anything. It has to be terrible for them. When I think about how bad I feel about it, I have to stop and think about how they must feel. This is my first year, and I’m pretty upset about it, so I can’t imagine. I try not to think about that.”
For Butler’s Ziefert, who has had two older brothers come through the program, it’s starting to sink in that his baseball career may have come to an end.
“It makes it more emotional thinking about it,” Ziefert said. “I remember watching my brother go through senior night. It was something that I knew was coming, but I didn’t know it was coming so soon.”
Ziefert said it “would be like Christmas morning” if he were to get word the Bulldogs could get back on the field.
“I think it would be incredible,” Hetzel added. “I think everyone would play that much harder and with so much heart. It would be fun.”
Until then, we all wait for sports to return.
“It’s just a new normal,” Hetzel said. “I don’t think it’s fully kicked in for me right now and I don’t think I can fully comprehend how much of a difference it will be. We start online school next week, so I think that’s when it may start to kick in. It just feels surreal.”
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