Season-opening games, matches and meets would be postponed.
Frederick County high school sports teams learned that bad news by last Thursday, when it was announced that all Maryland public schools would be closed from March 16 to March 27 because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Still, with one more school day planned for last Friday, it appeared county teams could squeeze in another preseason practice before the health-related hiatus. Turns out, they couldn’t.
“Thursday night we got the call that we were done,” Catoctin softball coach Jessica Valentine said. “Well, done for now.”
The question is, how long will “now” last?
It remains to be seen whether the pandemic will simply delay that start of the spring prep sports season or, if the public health situation continues to worsen, wipe it out completely. At any rate, this crisis has created a disruption unlike any seen in local sports in recent memory.
In past springs, high school teams have had schedules severely disrupted by bad weather, including snowstorms. But in a matter of days, action resumed and many — if not all — of the postponed games were eventually made up. There was none of the uncertainty caused by this pandemic.
The MPSSAA, the governing body for Maryland public high school sports, revealed a timeline for the resumption of the spring sport season, assuming schools reopen on March 30. Teams could resume practicing on March 30 and could begin season-opening contests on April 6.
But every day, more drastic steps affecting all facets of life are being taken to combat the health crisis. Another came on Tuesday, when Kansas closed its schools for the remainder of the school year.
Such developments make it seem less far-fetched that Maryland schools will end up being closed beyond March 27, keeping local sports in a state of limbo.
“If they push it back even further, I think they probably will think about canceling the season,” Urbana baseball coach Mike Frownfelter said. “I don’t want that to happen. But I mean, how far are we going to keep going until they decide to let us go back to school and also starting the season back up?”
Every year, stories are written about seniors who see their final seasons cut short and missed out on entirely by injuries. But this year, the coronavirus has disrupted seasons for a staggering amount of seniors.
Some are still hoping to play state semifinals basketball games. The MPSSAA hoops tournament is postponed indefinitely, leaving seniors on county teams that reached the state semifinals — the Frederick and Middletown girls and Oakdale boys — in limbo. And many more are waiting to compete for county baseball, softball, tennis, lacrosse and track and fieldteams.
“My seniors, they might not play at all,” Frownfelter said. “So, we’re just kind of waiting and hoping and praying that we can play.”
Like everyone interviewed for this story, Frownfelter’s comments were in response to questions about the pandemic’s impact on local teams and athletes. He and the others understood the shutdown was done for public safety.
“No one wants to be in this situation, not practicing and not playing,” said Kevin Kendro, Frederick County Public Schools supervisor of athletics. “But again, everyone understands why this is being done.”
Kendro sent an email to county coaches, encouraging them to have their athletes perform tasks at home during the unexpected break.
“Drills that they could do at their homes to stay sharp, both physically and mentally,” Kendro said. “So if we get the opportunity to return and compete, they’re ready.”
Baseball pitchers need to keep their arms built up and get pitch counts up so they can provide their teams with solid outings. Track and field athletes need to keep training to be in peak condition when marquee meets are held late in the season.
Oakdale boys track and field coach Dave Lillard, whose team has won two straight state titles, is using an app to communicate with athletes.
His team includes a pair of nationally-ranked athletes, Kyle Lund and Collin Dempsey. Those two and many others had been training to perform at a high level this spring. They don’t want to slack off just because schools are closed, so they plan to keep working on their own.
“You put workouts on a calendar, just keep them in shape pretty much, give them core to do and give them some long runs to do,” he said.
Likewise, Valentine planned to provide her players with instructions.
“We have a little group chat, that everyday that we would have practice or a game, they’re checking it for some type of assignment, whether it be like a teamwork thing or a leadership thing or a motivational thing,” she said on Friday.
At the time, Valentine mentioned how some of her players could work out at a gym. But that option was taken away on Monday, when Maryland Governor Larry Hogan ordered all gyms to be shut down throughout the state.
If spring seasons are severely shortened or canceled, many local athletes hoping to play at the next level won’t have a chance to make good impressions on college coaches.
“Some of these colleges are saying, ‘OK, we’re going to give you this much money, and if you run this time, we’ll give you more money,” Lillard said. “So having a spring season is a financial thing to them.”
Frownfelter said three of his seniors have already committed, but others might also want to play collegiate baseball.
“As coaches, we’ll try to do our best to try to get it done,” said Frownfelter, adding that juniors would also have trouble getting on scouts’ radar if their seasons were wiped out. “I’m sure colleges will understand because their seasons are done. It’s unfortunate.”
Urbana boys lacrosse coach Gavin Donahue, who has a team he thinks can go deep in the playoffs, used that same word when summing up the entire situation.
“It’s just unprecedented and unfortunate,” he said. “But the most important part is making sure our student athletes are safe and healthy. It’s above and beyond athletics at this point.”