The kids just want to play.
After the UIL announced on Thursday, March 19, that it extended the suspension of spring sports until May 4, the future for the 2020 spring season began to get murky in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak.
“I would hope, for the seniors, that they try to get everything done,” said first-year Charlotte Head baseball Coach Joey Gonzales, “but pushing it back to May 4, district certification was, I think, May 5 originally. That’s pushing it … almost two months back. So it’s starting to get pretty sketchy on if we’re gonna get it done or not.”
The coaches have had to find ways to keep their players ready in the wings with hope of completing the 2020 season. But the uncertainty has left players and coaches feeling anxious.
“I think it’s been a roller coaster for everybody, trying to get the school and the education part and then the next thing, which is important to a lot of kids — it’s not life or death — is sports,” said Pleasanton Head baseball Coach Lance Standley, who’s team found out about the suspension while playing in the Pearsall tournament. “All the hard work these kids have put in this year, and many years before, it’s just been put on halt. There’s no answers, that’s what makes it so difficult.”
However, the UIL’s verbiage in their latest release offered hope. Instead of outright cancelling the spring season like some states and the NCAA have done, the UIL opted to continue with suspension.
For Brant Bird, Head Coach of the Pleasanton women’s soccer team and an English teacher, you can tell that the UIL is doing everything in their power during this unprecedented time.
“When I read the UIL Director [Dr. Susan Elza] letter that came out [Thursday], when they moved the suspension back to May 4, I was encouraged by her tone,” Bird said. “Being an English teacher, tone is a pretty big deal. When she talked about … letting us finish what we started, I think it was something different than the way professional sports and the NCAA approached everything. It is different in our case because, in professional sports, they’re getting paid to do that; with colleges, they can give them another year of eligibility. You can’t do that in high school. These kids, these seniors, they don’t have the option to come back next year and continue what they’re doing.”
But, during the suspension, no organized practices can be held by the schools or coaches, meaning it’s up to the players to remain ready.
Bird said his five seniors of Kate McNeill, Madelyn Bird, Delanee Olivarri, Zoei Diaz and Karly Jo Esquivel responded by setting up player-run practices where the team would go through drills and work on their fitness all without the help of their coaches. Of the 18 players on the roster, 15 showed up to the practice organized by the seniors.
“That’s been amazing, just knowing that those five girls were there to be an extension of me when I can’t do my normal job right now,” Bird said. “They can go out and say ‘Hey girls, let’s get together on our own and do these different activities so we can maintain our fitness.’
“They weren’t just scrimmaging, they were actually doing drills that we normally do in practice. I had nothing to do with that, it was just them wanting to continue to improve and not lose what they worked so hard for.”
Other area coaches have seen the same response from their senior leaders.
Lexi Smith, Jourdanton’s Head softball Coach, praised her seniors Allie Touchstone and Allie and Lexi Wheeler for finding a way to stay positive and keep their teammates up during these uncertain times.
“I think they’ve responded really well,” Smith said. “I’m very transparent with them and I don’t try to feed into a false reality. So I make sure to send out everything, but at the same time, I tell them this is good for us.”
On a daily basis, Smith gets asked for drills players can do on their own at home while play is suspended.
“I know they’re working, they’re keeping faith and they’re keeping their chin up because they know when we step out on that field, we’re gonna be ready to go,” Smith said.