Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Senior Athletes Forced To Look Ahead

State championship celebrations will not come this spring.

By Matt Feld (@Mattyfeld612)

Just over two months ago, March 16th was still a day spring athletes had circled on their calendars. Now April 21st is one they will forever try and erase from their memories.

On Tuesday afternoon, Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker announced that schools - both public and private - would remain closed through the end of the school year as the state continues to combat the COVID-19 pandemic. While the MIAA has yet to formally release a statement, school closures present an end to the spring sports season before it even begins.

The consequences will be far reaching and they will go beyond results on the scoreboard. For underclassmen it is a lost chance to pursue a passion. Whether it be baseball, softball, lacrosse, track, tennis, or rugby, hundreds of freshman and sophomores saw athletics as a way to further enhance their high school experience. Now it will be crucial for coaches and athletic administrators to stay in constant touch with these kids who signed up for a spring sport to help them stay motivated and involved when schools reopen in the fall.

From a college standpoint, juniors will feel the brunt of the blow. This is the biggest opportunity for those players to be seen, recognized, and receive interest from college coaches. Now everyone is left wondering if colleges will leave more spots open for the class of 2021 in hopes of getting a late glimpse of them when this time comes around next year or if they choose to fill them with athletes in the NCAA transfer portal.

Of course the hardest hit are the seniors.

This, for many, was their final chance to play sports competitively. Due to the amount of offers and graphics displayed throughout social media it can become easy to forget that a large majority of high schoolers never go on to play at the next level. Even for those that do, their senior year may be the final chance to compete for a league or state championship.

For seniors, however, their spring season represents more than just one last chance at a state championship. It signifies their chance to show they can be program leaders after idolizing captains that came before them. It gives them the opportunity to play with their childhood friends one final time and in front of their classmates that have come akin to next door neighbors. When graduation comes around, spring sports are their final attachment to the school.

Spring seasons are bus rides, team meals, cookouts, and celebrations after wins on warm days.

Spring sports invite complaining during practice when its 27 degrees in late March and plenty of smiles when an evening game provide the greatest atmosphere. They allow for game-winning goal celebrations, walk-off hits, photo finishes at the end of the meet, and jubilation at the end of a match. For a lucky select few they earn the right to have a mosh-pit on the mound or a pile-on at midfield.

This spring none of that will take place due to events that transpired outside of anyone's control. The end of school prematurely impacts all facets of high school life and not just athletics. There will be no proms, senior weeks, or graduations...once in a lifetime events that this group will never experience. When seniors left schools in the middle of March they never thought it would be the last time they walked the halls with the same kids they have attended school with for four, six, or maybe even 14 years.

Except if there is any generation of students prepared to handle this situation its this one. They were born in the shadows of September 11th, traveled through elementary and middle school as their families felt the plight of the Great Recession, and now find themselves exiting high school as the United States faces one of its biggest challenges of the last 100 years.

While they may not get the chance to be leaders of their athletic teams this spring, they will be the ones who pioneer the next great wave of ideas and innovation across Massachusetts, the United States, and around the world. Through the support of coaches, teachers, administrators, and the investment of elected officials this group of students will transition to college with the chance to start a new chapter.

They may not be leaders in baseball or softball, or spark a pregame huddle in lacrosse, but they will be the next big thinkers in engineering, education, government, and science. When people look back on history years down the road, this will be the group of students who helped the United States exit the pandemic stronger than when it entered.

The influence that students have on an athletic department are felt every time they put on the uniform, but their lasting legacy is created by what they do when they are away from the field.

That will never be more true than with this group who will make sure that the feelings of April 21st serve as motivation for a successful future.

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