Brookville @ Lord Botetourt p

Brookville's Zach Thompson hits a home run in the sixth inning of a playoff game at Lord Botetourt in 2019. 

When I began playing baseball as a kid, the first lesson I learned was “Keep your head down.”

It didn’t take me long to find out the rule always applied — whether I was in the batter’s box or fielding grounders. So the saying played on a loop in my mind: Head down, eye on the ball.

Sometimes, though, you have to break a rule.

So area high school athletes, this isn’t the moment to hang your head. These days, it’s important to keep your head up.

I know the spring sports season has been taken from you. Your dreams have been denied, your hopes crushed, your day-to-day lives dashed.

Like everyone else, you’re now hunkered down while a virus threatens to rip apart the fabric of our society. Some of you have been training on your own, on empty fields, in backyards or outside apartment complexes, buoyed by hopes the previous two-week sports hiatus would end and things get back to normal.

I’m sorry that couldn’t happen, and I know you’re disappointed.

I’ve heard the argument — you probably have, too — that sports just don’t matter at a time like this, that they are only entertainment and ultimately have no bearing on daily life.

I vehemently disagree. Sports have a way of uniting us. They’ve played a gigantic role in our healing process throughout this country’s history, and will again one day. They’ll return, and we’ll stand and cheer and pace and feel the burn of disappointment and elation of victory once more.

For now, things are a bit lonely. People all across our country are hurting and sick; many are dying. We must have empathy for them, take care of ourselves and hope for a brighter tomorrow.

Know also that how you feel in this moment matters. You might be angry or confused or anxious right now, and that’s OK. Talk to someone about it. Exercise. Deal with those feelings in a positive way. After all, you’re dealing with a lot right now.

Seniors, you’re left to grapple with careers suddenly cut short. You’ll always have questions about how good your team might’ve been or how much you could’ve accomplished. Heck, you didn’t even get to say goodbye. Your dream of a walk-off homer or crossing the finish line to thunderous applause will have to remain a dream.

Juniors, you’re left with questions, too, like how you can become a leader next year or whether you’ll be as good as you once were when play resumes.

Underclassmen, you have to plan for the future knowing some things you wanted to accomplish won’t happen. When we emerge from this pandemic, our world will change dramatically, and so sports will, too. You are tasked with leading the charge, the first group facing a new world of competition, where there are certain to be all kinds of new rules and regulations.

All of you have a right to be upset. But you have to keep working. You have to keep reaching for a better tomorrow, walking the thin tightrope between failure and success as all athletes do.

One more thing, and I know it may be only a small comfort right now: Know that people care. They care because they’ve seen the smiles and the tears, the anger and happiness, just like I have.

I’ve seen you walk arm-in-arm with your teammates and chant from the dugout and sway to the anthem.

I’ve seen you win state titles and fall short of the playoffs, watched you throw long touchdown passes and no-hitters.

I’ve seen the light of youth shine in your eyes during the good times, and watched you struggle to your feet after a painful loss, the tears rolling.

Here’s the thing: We all eventually get up and get going again. It’s tough right now, but keep your head up. Believe things will get easier. And always believe in yourself.

Reach Cates at (434) 385-5527.

Ben Cates covers high school sports for The News & Advance. Reach him at (434) 385-5527. 

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