Benjamin Russell coach Richy Brooks has been in this business a long time. He’s been the head of the Wildcat baseball program for longer than his current players have been alive.
He’s seen it all.
Well, almost all.
But in all his years of experience and all his time spent around the ballpark, nothing could’ve prepared him for this.
“It’s been a weird year,” Brooks said. “Between the rain to now this, I’ve never seen anything like this year, and I hope I don’t again.”
The “this” Brooks is referring to is the canceling of the high school sports season due to the coronavirus.
Thursday, Gov. Kay Ivey announced all Alabama public schools would move to online learning — if they hadn’t already begun those programs — starting April 6, which was when her original postponement was set to end. With that, Alabama state superintendent Dr. Eric Mackey confirmed that also meant the official conclusion of the AHSAA spring sports season.
“We want all schools to wrap up by June 5,” Mackey said at the Thursday press conference. “That essentially means that unfortunately, soccer, baseball, softball, track, band, all those spring activities are coming to an end and they won’t be able to complete those seasons.”
Even if the decision was expected with how the positive case numbers have risen over the last several days, it still hard to handle.
“We kinda knew it was coming with everything going on but you’re still not ready for it,” Horseshoe Bend baseball coach Jason Johnson said. “The kids have been working hard all year, and it sucks, for lack of a better term, especially for the seniors. With all the rain we had anyway, we hadn’t played half the games we were scheduled to start and now this. I just feel bad for those guys.”
With that devastation also came the realization it was the right thing to do.
“I’m really devastated for the seniors and not just with athletics but with everything; they can’t enjoy prom and graduation and all that,” BRHS boys soccer coach Austin Teel said. “But I hate to say this but this is bigger than sports right now. Yes, I hate it for the seniors but as my wife is in the healthcare field, I know this is a bigger issue than our little town. It’s serious.”
Many coaches echoed that sentiment and also said they were going to use this as a learning opportunity.
“We say all the time, ‘Sports prepares them for life,’” Brooks said. “Life doesn’t always go like we want it to or like we hope it will. We talk about adversity all the time and this is a little bit of adversity for them. I hate that they’re missing out on a lot of things — it’s not just guys and sports, but it’s girls and prom and graduations, which are for parents and grandparents.
“A lot of things will be missed, but it’s nobody’s fault.”
For first-year Central Coosa softball coach Chris Elliott, he said it’s been important for him to keep an emphasis on communicating with his girls and making sure they were keeping their spirits up. Luckily, the Cougars don’t have any seniors but they were making a ton of progress under Elliott and he doesn’t want to lose sight of that.
“This was just kind of a letdown,” Elliott said. “I feel bad for the girls; they’ve been working really hard as well as all the other teams across the state and everywhere else. All our girls will be back so it’s not like they lost their last season. But once we get all this mess straightened out, hopefully we can get back and have a great season next year.”
Another message coaches are trying to get across is the importance of following health guidelines and state mandates as well as practicing social distance. For Brooks, he not only saw his team’s season end but also saw his senior son, Cade Brooks, have to have his final year cut short. And coach Brooks knows if the proper precautions aren’t taken, the coronavirus could continue to spread and end much more than just spring sports.
“There are people dying and getting sick,” Brooks said. “We better concern ourselves with finding some type of cure and getting the nation out of the weeds. Our kids will be scarred a little but it’s not going to ruin their lives. I hate it dearly and maybe because it just happened, it hasn’t really sunk in yet. I’m really disappointed but at the same time we got to realize there’s a bigger picture here and do the right things or there will continue to be no athletics.”