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Brian Tannehill / Tallapoosa Publishers Benjamin Russell coach Jessica Johnson said she felt a wave of emotions after the softball team played in the Hoover tournament, which she said could be the Wildcats' final game of the year due to the coronavirus outbreak.

For so many people, sports are a solace.

Even in times of disaster and emergencies, it seems like sports are something that can bring people together.

“During most national disasters, from my standpoint, the first relief and bringing together of communities and really the strong thing that brings everything together is sports,” Reeltown athletic director and football coach Matt Johnson said. “That’s taken away. We 100% understand why, but it doesn’t make it any less frustrating. We hate that opportunities may be missed but we understand we’ll follow step with the state department of education and Alabama (Department of) Public Health.”

Reeltown was among few schools that had already made the decision to shut down its athletic activities. According to Johnson, a decision was made Friday to hold off on athletic activities, including Reeltown’s annual softball tournament Saturday, until the regularly scheduled spring break for Tallapoosa County Schools was complete.

By the end of Friday, all other schools’ hands were tied as Gov. Kay Ivey announced a decision to shut down all Alabama public schools from Wednesday through April 6.

Once that decision was made, both Tallapoosa County and Alexander City schools announced they would stop all sporting events after Saturday.

“I didn’t think they were going to disrupt anything because we don’t have to worry about huge crowds at high school events,” BRHS baseball coach Richy Brooks said. “I thought we would continue playing unless we got knocked out of school, which we did. Then it was a whirlwind of events in 24 hours because I didn’t want our guys to not get to play a game (Saturday).”

Benjamin Russell’s baseball team played at Munford on Saturday but many of the county teams were shut down without having what could potentially be their final games.

“I know my seniors are very, very disappointed,” Reeltown track and field coach Alana Garrard said. “This is their last season and these seniors were freshmen the first year I started coaching when we brought track back. This was going to be our special year and it’s going to be so much harder, if we even get to finish the season.”

Even teams that did get to have a potential final game — Benjamin Russell’s softball team played at Hoover’s softball tournament last week, knowing it could be its last — there was a bit of an eerie feeling when all was said and done.

“It was weird,” BRHS softball coach Jessica Johnson said. “When we got done Saturday, we were all standing there like, ‘OK, I guess we’ll see you when we see you.’ It’s just sad and there’s that feeling of not knowing what’s going to come of all this or when there’s going to be an ‘end,’ so to speak.”

As of right now, April 6 will be the first date teams can start playing spring sports again. The AHSAA will have some tough decisions ahead as baseball playoffs are scheduled to begin just 11 days after that. Others are scheduled to follow quickly behind.

The next big questions seem to be what will happen if and when spring sports can resume, how will teams get in their area games or required qualifiers prior to the postseason and if they can, will the playoffs be altered.

“It’s all kind of tentative right now,” Horseshoe Bend athletic director and football coach Jeremy Phillips said. “The AHSAA as a whole, if we have to go longer than (April 6), they’ll probably start making decisions on how we’ll handle that. They sent out a memo saying to make area games a priority (last week) then we get put out of school the very next day. We’re in a pickle here.” 

Many coaches are confident if high school sports can resume by the April 6 date, the AHSAA will find a way to crown champions — even if it means in a shortened format. But that still remains up in the air as there is still so much unknown. Coaches were pretty unanimous on staying hopeful the season will be played eventually, mostly for the sake of the seniors. 

“(College athletes) Connor Brooks sand Corley Woods were there for our game Saturday and both of them will get a year back if they do not play this year,” coach Brooks said. “I cannot give my nine seniors a year back. They can’t get it back and for some of these kids, that’ll be the last sport the ever play. The most important thing obviously is keeping everybody safe and healthy, but I hope (the AHSAA) doesn’t just dismiss (these kids) because it’s too hard. I hope we don’t go out like that for them.” 

Lizi Arbogast is the sports editor at Tallapoosa Publishers, Inc.