Walking off the field after her Middletown girls soccer team lost in the Class 2A state final in November, Sarah Remp could take comfort in one thing — there was always next year.
Remp, a junior at the time, was one of several underclassmen who used that loss as motivation for the season to come.
“It made us want to look forward to this year and an opportunity to play again,” she said.
Remp had no way of knowing that she, her teammates and every other Frederick County fall athlete wouldn’t get such an opportunity, at least during the fall of 2020, because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The health crisis canceled all Maryland high sports during the first semester of the 2020-21 school year, including events for winter teams that usually began competing in December. The Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association, the governing body for Maryland public high school sports, is reportedly finalizing a plan for all three sports seasons — fall, winter and spring — to be held during the second semester of the 2020-21 school year.
But until that plan is unveiled and enacted, Frederick County athletes who compete in fall sports have seen their seasons put in jeopardy by the health crisis.
They can only hope they don’t suffer the same fate as local spring athletes, who saw their seasons get completely wiped out by the pandemic-related shutdown. No matter what happens, though, games, matches or meets they normally would’ve competed in won’t be happening this fall.
“Heartbroken, for sure, because it is definitely the thing I look forward to in high school, being able to be with my teammates every day,” Remp said. “I never expected in March that COVID-19 would impact my senior year in the fall.”
“It’s very upsetting. It’s my senior year. I was really looking forward to it, so it was very sad to hear,” said rising senior Julia Gladhill, a standout libero for Linganore’s volleyball team. “But I’m just hoping that we could do it in the spring.”
Local athletes and coaches interviewed for this story understood the reason for the postponement. They also had perspective about the health crisis, realizing how it has sickened and killed so many.
But they were responding to questions about how the postponement affected high school athletes. At least from September through January, they won’t have opportunities enjoyed by fall athletes in years past.
In a normal fall, football players, especially uncommitted seniors, who aspire to play at the next level strive to compile highlight reels that will impress college coaches.
And of course, seniors get to compete their final high school season, a pinnacle they’ve been working toward since they were freshmen. On the other side of the spectrum, incoming freshmen get a valuable introduction to high school sports, be it on varsity or junior varsity.
Also, athletes harbor hopes of gunning for a state championship. Most don’t succeed, but at least they get to try. Not this fall.
THE POSTPONEMENT“From the end of the school year last year, there was always a little bit of hope that there was going to be some sort of a season,” said Sean Weiland, a rising senior on Thomas Johnson’s boys soccer team. “I completely understand why they postponed it. But yeah, it hurt a little bit.”
As the summer progressed, COVID-19 numbers, which had been declining during the shutdown in the spring, began to increase, particularly in hot spots throughout the country. Maryland had hot spots of its own, including Montgomery County, which responded by canceling fall and winter sports in July.
Other counties took similar steps, which didn’t bode well for Frederick County.
“I think most of us kind of read the handwriting on the wall late spring, and knew that the fall and the winter for that matter weren’t looking real good because not too much was going to change between the situation that we were faced with in the spring and the situation we’re in now,” Urbana boys soccer coach Scott Schartner said. “We were hopeful but realistic.”
Frederick County Public Schools’ Return To Play committee allowed schools to hold voluntary workouts, where students could perform drills with teammates while adhering to safety precautions, starting on July 20. But on July 29, those activities were halted because the Frederick County Board of Education postponed fall and winter sports until after the first semester, foreshadowing the MPSSAA’s postponement.
“You knew it was coming. You didn’t really want to believe it, you always want to hope for the best, but sadly they did cancel our season,” Catoctin rising senior football player Carson Sickeri said shortly after the ruling. “There’s not really many positives you can look at right now, especially after the season we had.”
With Sickeri’s skills as a running back serving as a driving force, the Cougars captured their second state crown in December, beating Dunbar in the Class 1A state championship game.
“We were really looking forward to bouncing back and trying to go for a second state championship, and we think we had a really good team coming back,” he said. “But we’re still looking positive and trying to look forward to the spring and just looking at it like a really extended fall season.”
COLLEGE RECRUITING CHALLENGESAside from helping the Cougars defend their title, Sickeri also hopes to play college football. While his stellar junior season provide plenty of worthy material for his highlight reel, he hoped to turn more heads this fall.
“It’s definitely made it difficult not having a season,” he said. “Everyone in my situation needs film, and we’re all in the same situation now. Some kids might need more film than others, but it’s still — we can just hope for the best for college. That’ll definitely alter some of my decisions, probably.”
Another way for college hopefuls to get noticed is by attending football camps over the summer. But thanks to the virus, those opportunities were limited. Sickeri has yet to participate in a camp this summer, although he recently joined two 7-on-7 teams and might attend a camp this weekend in Virginia sponsored by Frostburg.
“My dad and I were planning to do a lot of camps this year, even try to go as far up as UConn or as far down south as, probably, Coastal Carolina, if not farther,” he said.
Even if athletes do draw interest from a college, their ability to gauge if that interest is mutual has been limited.
“This has affected a lot because one, I can’t really go visit colleges, so I don’t really get a sense of what the college is like,” Weiland said. “And for colleges to look at us, I mean, there’s not really tournaments, and you can’t really have fans if there is a game.”
Keep in mind, club soccer events in the spring were also affected by the shutdown.
“You kinda lost a huge part in the spring of your junior year, which is crucial,” said Carson Grove, another rising senior standout for TJ’s boys soccer team.
Oakdale field hockey player Sam Mogar doesn’t have to worry about trying to catch the eye of a college coach — she has already committed to play at Limestone University.
But like Remp, Mogar played for a team that lost in the state championship during her junior season, leaving her hungry for another shot.
“We have 13 seniors on the team, and this is probably one of the best teams we’ve had so far,” Mogar said. “So we definitely had another big chance of making it this year to states.”
Also, Mogar has insight as to how this postponement can affect newcomers. Her sister, Kaitlyn, is a freshman who plans to play field hockey for the Bears. Older players typically serve as role models for such young newcomers, whether or not they’re related.
“It’s kind of upsetting because I kind of wanted to set some standards for her and kind of give her a taste of what it’s like to be a high school athlete and just give her the great feeling of being on a team and having wonderful coaches by your side and just really getting into the game,” Mogar said.
She might get such a chance if fall sports are played in the second semester. Calling it a hybrid two-semester plan, the MPSSAA said it was finalizing a plan to play fall, winter and spring sports during the second semester of the 2020-21 school year.
STAYING PREPARED FOR SPRING“We’d be grateful just for anything,” Grove said. “We know it would be different, but we’d be grateful.”
But that option depends on what happens with the novel coronavirus. Perhaps it dissipates or an effective vaccine is available. Then again, the numbers could spike, requiring more safety measures that could make it difficult to resume sports.
“If we knew, I’m sure I would have a better answer to what options are out there,” TJ boys soccer coach Jim Reigel said. “But right now, you’ve got to look out for the kids, to protect themselves from themselves. And sometimes you’ve got to protect adults from themselves as well.”
During the shutdown, high school athletes have taken various measures to stay in shape so they’ll be ready to play in the future.
“Luckily, I do have a weight room at my house in my garage, so I’ve been able to lift and do what I need out there,” said Sickeri, who’s also been working out a lot at Urbana Park. “Just trying to stay in shape the best I can.”
Grove participated in soccer activities this summer with his club team.
“I played in a 7v7 league through FC Frederick, and we had a few practices with my club team and a few games, and that’s about it,” Grove said. “Right now we practice twice a week, playing like we normally would since there’s no high school.”
Likewise, Gladhill got to participate in volleyball camps and clinics through her club team, Metro Volleyball Club team, and she plans to keep at it in the fall.
“They set up this volleyball academy, where we go and basically try out, and they put us on teams,” she said. “And then we practice twice a week and we play on Saturdays, games against the other teams.”
FCPS’ Return to Play committee unveiled plans to allow students to resume participating in voluntary workouts and non-contact skills practices. Students who compete in fall sports get to go first, with their workouts to be held Aug. 31 through Sept. 23. Spring sports practice sessions can be held Sept. 28 through Oct. 21, and winter voluntary sessions run from Oct. 26 to Nov. 18.
No competitions are allowed. Perhaps in the spring.
“It would be incredible for us to try to get something rather than nothing. Logistically, I’m not sure how it’s going to work,” Schartner said. “In my opinion, it’s still 50-50, whether or not we have anything, which is disappointing. But it’s just unprecedented.”