The lives of local student athletes changed on a dime this week with the suspension of all high school sports beginning on Monday.
COVID-19 has stolen the headlines around the nation and infected north of 4,500 Americans over the last month. Some things are bigger than sports. Seniors around the area are grappling with the hit that comes to their senior sports seasons but also take notice of the importance of the decisions at hand.
“It’s awful, but some things are bigger than sports,” Athens Academy senior Graham Blanks said. “This pandemic is more important than our athletic endeavors. I understand that, so I’m not too upset. It’s going to take a global effort to fight it off. I think by canceling a lot of the events that could potentially facilitate the spread of the virus is a good move...I understand that it is the best thing for not only sports but humanity right now.”
With the suspension comes uncertainty. The word suspension leaves hope that before the school year ends there will be a resumption for spring sports around the state.
For some, that fact is a silver lining. It gives them hope and pushes them to remain creative in finding ways to stay ready should competition resume in the coming weeks.
“I think they probably made the right decision,” North Oconee High School senior baseball player Chandler White said. “I think it could have been a lot worse. At least they didn’t cancel it altogether. We can live with not playing for two weeks but having it canceled altogether would be a whole different thing. I’m grateful that we still have a chance at least and this wasn’t taken away at the blink of an eye right away...There’s nothing that we can really control. We just have to take it with a grain of salt and take it one day at a time.”
For some senior athletes the last three months of the school year and the spring sports calendar was a time chase the state championship they haven’t won yet. For others, the ramifications of not being able to play their respective sport places a lock on their futures.
With travel being restricted prospective athletes can’t make college visits and colleges coaches can’t visit them. Without games there isn’t film to send the college coaches and for first year starters it leaves them exposed to a reality that they may have played their final athletic competition.
“I know that what I’m going through is really tough, but for those guys like Chandler White, Dylan Wilhelm, Bennett Toci and Michael Hotcaveg, all of my fellow seniors who just aren’t quite sure yet about what they’re going to do and were hoping to use this year to show college coaches what they can bring to the table is heartbreaking to see,” NOHS senior baseball player Will Pearson said.
Pearson, who has signed with the University of Georgia to play baseball, feels for all of the athletes who will be forced to sit the next few weeks out.
The Titans were only a hand full of outs from reaching the state championship last season. They were hoping to push past the semifinals and reach the state championship and perhaps win it this season. Having that possibility now in doubt is hard to accept.
“I feel for all spring athletes as a whole,” Pearson said. “For all the spring athletes that are seniors, it’s tough to be going through this. Everyone just works so hard to get to this point, for it be taken away is a hard pill to swallow. It’s really devastating.”
Athens Academy senior runner Graham Blanks has always loved the process with competition being a secondary byproduct of the hours of practice he endures. Blanks feels more of his peers could learn to love that part of their sports in their hiatus.
Without games to look forward to and to prepare for there is plenty of time for practicing and learning new things about their respective crafts in the time off.
It reminds Blanks of the days of little league and youth sports when things were only about learning the game.
“Back then it was about learning the sport for fun,” Blanks said. “Working through this virus is going to be a lot about learning who you are. A lot of people, including me, are going to get something good out of this unique circumstance just learning how to be self-driven, dedicated and working even when there’s no clear endpoint. There are so many question marks right now that you just need to be ready whenever your time comes.”