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Area coaches react to news of cancellation of spring athletics

Area coaches would have loved gathering their teams the last few weeks, explaining the ongoing issues holding up their spring sports season. The cornavirus pandemic made that impossible and communication came through texts, calls and group chats.

And now the coronavirus has ended those springs sports seasons which never started.

Hope remained that abbreviated seasons could be salvaged, but those aspirations were dashed Thursday afternoon when the PIAA, in accordance with Gov. Tom Wolf’s decision to end the school year statewide, canceled the remainder of its calendar-year sports seasons. This included all springs sports, as well as the state basketball and Class AA swimming and diving championships that were nearing completion when sports were suspended last March 12.

“You never know what life is going to throw at you and we were thrown a curveball this time,” South Williamsport softball coach Tom O’Malley said. “These are unprecedented times. The No. 1 priority is everyone’s health so that’s the most important thing. I understand the decision and we have to be positive and hope something like this never happens again.”

“Our entire program is hurting today that players across the state will not get a chance to showcase their hard work on the field this spring. We’ve been in contact with our players throughout this experience with the idea that we are playing until someone tells us no,” Loyalsock baseball coach Zac Martin said. “Our players have also had to balance the full switch to online classes which was not an easy task so we stepped back a little so our players could focus on school. Our players are resilient and understand that the season is only part of our journey as a program.”

All spring sports teams had started those journeys and several baseball and softball teams had played scrimmages before the seasons were suspended as the coronavirus continued spreading throughout the country. South softball was scheduled to compete in a tournament at Myrtle Beach this week and all other teams would be well into their schedules by this point.

A little less than a month and a half remained in the baseball and softball seasons before playoffs began. The track and field and tennis postseasons started sooner. With teams not being able to immediately go into games upon returning and needing at least a week or two of preparation, time was running out on saving their seasons. Still, hope remained that some kind of modified seasons, even ones that did not include state tournaments, could still be held.

Now athletes and coaches who devoted countless hours to their respective sports have had their worst sports fears confirmed.

“This is in the best interest of all involved regardless of how bad it makes us feel,” Williamsport softball coach Chase Smith said. “My girls and I have been in constant communication and they have been well aware all along that any form of a season seemed unlikely. This announcement will just confirm what we expected for some time now. It is such a surreal feeling, we work all year long behind the scenes to prepare to showcase that work during games, and it is just such an anticlimactic ending.”

“I have been doing this for quite a long time and we have never gone through something like this so it is unique in that regard. I feel terrible for our players and all players in all spring sports,” Muncy baseball coach Chris Persing said. “For the seniors in our area and across the country, I can only imagine what it would be like to lose this year. For many it is there last chance at playing and to have it end through no control of their own makes it even more devastating and while I think we all understand why they made the decision they made today, it still hurts.”

Across the state, coaches, parents and fans expressed similar sentiments, especially concerning the seniors who now have no opportunity at achieving lifetime memories that come through playing high school sports. Some teams, like South softball which featured seven seniors, are senior-driven, some are young, but they all equally hurt for those who will no longer get to play high school sports.

All four coaches interviewed for this story said their seniors will be honored in various ways once they have he green light to socially gather again.

“I’m at a loss for words. It takes the wind right out of you and I’m crushed,” O’Malley said. “They made a lot of sacrifices and dedicated themselves to their senior year. As a senior, you never want to take that uniform off following that last game and for them to never get to put on that uniform is beyond heartbreaking.”

“I have been in contact with our AD, and my booster club in order to find ways to honor our seniors the best that we can, but we are all aware that nothing will be able to fill the void of missing their senior seasons,” Smith said. “We all try to put ourselves in these girls shoes to think of ideas that would help ease the pain, but the truth is that none of us can really imagine what it feels like. These are unprecedented times and no one really knows what to feel or how to handle those feelings.”

All high school teams across the state will be trying to come to grip with those feelings over the next few weeks and months. It is one of many challenges they face in the days ahead as people everywhere hope normalcy returns sooner rather than later.

The underclassmen will continue working toward their next season, whether that be in the fall, winter or next spring. The seniors will not have that opportunity, but they will leave behind valuable legacies.

“I feel for our seniors because this is a class I have been excited to have lead. Some of them worked incredibly hard for a chance to impact our team on the field this Spring,” Martin said. “My message to them is that all of their hard work is not wasted. They began to cement our culture and will look back at our program in a couple years and feel proud that they had an impact on players for years to come.”

That is the case throughout the area for teams in all the spring sports. And a positive that strong can put some luster on a bleak situation.

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