I’ve managed to get through all my interviews about the coronavirus without shedding a tear.
Between talking to a lady about how she was in desperate need of help and speaking to the woman whose husband had tested positive for COVID-19, I came close to breaking down but I held strong.
As journalists, we’re supposed to be unbiased — just reporting the facts — and as a human being, I’ve always been taught to try to be strong. In those cases, I wanted to be strong for those women who were scared and confused and didn’t know what to do. So I held back tears.
But when I interviewed baseball dad David Willis on Friday afternoon, I couldn’t help it.
As Willis held back tears and had to take a moment while telling me about what he told his son Ryan, a Benjamin Russell baseball senior, just before the Wildcats’ final game, I finally broke as hot tears welled up in my eyes too.
“The morning of that Saturday game, I told him, ‘This may be your last one,’” David Willis said. “We just hugged each other and cried.”
Then Willis and I cried on the phone together Friday — less than 24 hours after his prediction became true. Thursday afternoon, Gov. Kay Ivey announced the closure of all public schools in the state for the remainder of the school year and with that came the confirmation the spring sports season was over.
It was a flood of emotions for everyone.
While I absolutely think Ivey made the right decision, like so many others — the postponement of the Olympics, the cancellation of the NCAA tournament, the end of the NHL season — the announcement was still hard to swallow.
I’ve been using that phrase a lot lately: “Hard to swallow.”
The cancellation of sports isn’t just hard for me to swallow but it’s hard for me to comprehend. I feel a sort of special connection to these seniors because they were finishing up their freshmen years when I first moved to Alexander City. They were sophomores during my first football season here, which is when many of the top players move up to varsity so I’ve had a chance to cover the majority — if not all — of their high school careers.
I can’t believe I won’t get to watch them see it through.
It’s also hard to comprehend for the sheer fact of … what’s next?
What are we supposed to do now?
I sincerely hope the coronavirus outbreak will be under control by summertime and it won’t affect football teams taking the fields for workouts. But even then, that’s not till the first week in July.
So what do we do until then?
On a personal level, I think, “What in the world am I going to put in the paper for the next three months?” But I also think, “What are we supposed to do until then?” I spend so much time talking about sports, thinking about sports, writing about sports, watching sports. How am I supposed to fill that time?
But my heart doesn’t break for me; my heart breaks for them.
As y’all know, I think of the student-athletes I cover as my kids; I revel in their accomplishments; I cheer for them when they’re behind; and I hurt for them when things aren’t going their way. And now my kids are hurting more than ever, and it’s hard to comprehend.
It’s not just about the games they’ll be missing or the championships they could’ve won; it’s about the moments they won’t get — on the field, at prom, at graduation, with their friends getting into normal high school trouble. It’s about the lost camaraderie I hope they can still find a way to nourish during this time. It’s about moments in the locker room and bus rides to road games and team meals cooked by their parents.
It’s been a tough couple weeks covering this virus and how it affects every aspect of our communities, and I’m sure there will be many more tears shed. But listening to a father speak about his son and those cherished moments at the ballfield they may never have again — through no one’s fault — I’m sure will be one of the toughest moments I’ll have.
Although I’m not a parent, my heart is breaking for all your kids — especially the ones around here I claim as my own.