When March rolled around this year, no one could have imagined a scenario in which state high school basketball tournaments and spring sports would not be played.
That scenario became a reality Tuesday afternoon when Bernie Dolan, executive director of the West Virginia Secondary School Activities Commission, announced in a statement that the remaining postseason basketball tournaments and all prep sports in West Virginia have been canceled for the rest of the school year.
Reactions around the area ranged from shock and devastation to a sense of disbelief. Shady Spring’s boys basketball team was set to play Westside in a Class AA Region 3 co-final before it was postponed and ultimately canceled. The Tigers were looking to lock up their first state tournament berth since 1994.
Shady secured it’s first-ever state No. 1 ranking, racked up a school-record 22 wins and defeated county rival Woodrow Wilson for the first time ever.
“It’s surreal,” coach Ronnie Olson said. “There has always been the sliver of hope that we could finish the season. You never want to think it is over. Now it’s just deflating to hear it is officially over. I have sat and reflected all day how special this team is in so many ways. This team meant so much to our community, school, parents and players. We all thought we had a real shot at bringing Shady’s first title in school history home.
“I’m not going to lie. It hurts. We all hurt and nothing can take that away but time and a run next year to win it all.”
The finality of the decision also hit hard with spring sport athlete and coaches, none of whom got to even start their seasons.
“I understand it, but I hate it for our seniors and every senior around the state,” Independence head softball coach Ken Adkins said. “This is a terrible deal that leaves you somewhat speechless. We are not used to this. We are a ‘do what we want, when we want’ type of society.”
One of the key returning varsity players for Adkins’ Lady Patriots is senior center fielder Makenzie Holley, who was anxious for a chance to lead her team back to the state tournament.
“I would be lying if I said I wasn’t a little heartbroken,” Holley said about the news. “I have been preparing for this day for over a month, but it still hurts to hear that it really isn’t going to happen.”
Greenbrier West baseball player Peyton Brown missed his junior year after being sidelined with an injury. He was highly anticipating a return to the diamond for his senior season.
“It is really hard to comprehend that it is actually all over now,” Brown said. “Not just baseball, but school, too. We have worked the last 12 years of our lives to walk across that stage (for graduation) one day and we may not get the chance to do that. It is hard to think the last full (baseball) season I had in high school was my sophomore season. I know it wouldn’t make it any easier, but part of me thinks if I had got to play last year, it might make it a little bit easier. I just wanted one last shot at Charleston and I’ll never get it. It is devastating to know that.”
Brown’s head coach, Doug Nickell, was also excited for a season that held great promise for the Cavaliers.
“My first reaction is just devastation. Absolutely hurt for my seniors, my underclassmen, coaching staff and parents,” Nickell said. “We preach family and being part of something bigger than yourself, so when something like this happens, it truly hurts all of us.”
While every coach, athlete, parent and fan wanted to hold out hope that somehow the COVID-19 pandemic could be neutralized, hope faded with each passing day.
“I didn’t hold out any hope of anybody’s season, either getting finished, or in our case, starting back up,” Woodrow Wilson head tennis coach Bernie Bostick said. “The risks far outweigh the advantages. Tennis is such a family sport that we might have three generations of family at our matches.”
“The last thing any coach wants would be for a team member’s family to get dangerously ill,” Bostick went on to say. “There will be other days for tennis. I hate my seniors won’t get their year, but everybody everywhere is losing a year of their career. I think what I will really miss is watching everybody get better and bonding as a team as we go through the season.”
Safety was the main driving force behind the decision by the WVSSAC and although the decision was painful, players and coaches understood the risks are too great at this time.
“The most important thing is that all of my players, coaches and family members are healthy and safe,” Nickell said. “This is something that we will turn into a life lesson and grow from it. Lesson being that we should never take things in life for granted. We will stay strong in our faith and stay positive through everything. Although this is a dark day, we know brighter days are ahead.”
Adkins recalled seeing a plaque in Nutall Middle School, previously Nutall High School, listing graduating seniors who went straight off to World War I.
“Putting it all in the proper perspective, it is terrible, but no one is going off somewhere to get shot at,” Adkins said. “In the grand scheme of things, we are all still here to talk about it all.”
Holley and Brown have more time on the diamond ahead of them after signing to play college softball and baseball, respectively. However, through their own pain, the two senior standouts were more concerned about teammates who will not have that opportunity.
“Not everybody like myself gets a chance to play at the next level,” Brown said. “I feel for those kids that got their seasons canceled that will never get to step on the field again.”
“I know this is the right choice and God has a plan,” Holley said. “My prayers go out to all those who are affected by this, especially those who will not get a quote next season.”
While being in agreement with the decision, Adkins admits some days are going to be tougher than others as the world progresses and gets back a previrus normal.
“Every sunny day and every cool evening, it is going to be hard not to think, ‘Wow, what could have been,’” Adkins said.
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