The busiest high school sports season of the year came to an abrupt end Monday, before it really even began.
Following an order Monday from Gov. Ralph Northam closing all schools in the commonwealth for the remainder school year, the Virginia High School League canceled all spring sports because of concerns about the coronavirus, COVID-19.
The Virginia Independent Schools Athletic Association also said Monday it will not sanction any championships for the spring 2020 season, but its statement did not address regular-season games.
The news came one week after the first VHSL games were set to kick off and squashed the hope many in the area carried they might be able to get back to playing.
Before Monday’s announcement ending the season, VHSL spring sports were on hold for two weeks.
“Just a sad day,” E.C. Glass soccer coach Randy Turille said, trying to rein in tears and emotion. “A day I didn’t want to come.”
The move affects 10 spring sports: boys and girls soccer, lacrosse, tennis, and track and field, along with baseball and softball. Additional VHSL activities like forensics and theater also are affected by the decision.
“We need to support our governor and state superintendent,” VHSL Executive Director John W. “Billy” Haun said in a statement. “These actions were taken to protect Virginians, keep them safe and healthy and to help slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus.
“Our Crisis Management team is made up of excellent school representatives and has been vital in all deliberations regarding COVID-19. In every situation, every decision we make has been, and will be, in the best interest of public health, including that of, most importantly, our student-athletes, coaches, administrators, and families.”
According to the release, the Crisis Management team will hold a conference call Tuesday to discuss additional issues regarding spring sports and activities and options that may exist in the summer following the academic year.
Turille, like others in the area, said amid the uncertainty the coronavirus has caused, he clung to a glimmer of hope the last two weeks. Although they knew the announcement Monday might be on the horizon, having the season only suspended initially left players and coaches with some optimism that games could be possible.
“I was kind of hoping for one more stay instead of shutting it all down,” said Mike Thompson, the Liberty High softball coach whose team is coming off the first girls state championship in school history. “Once you go all the way, there’s no turning back.”
But Monday’s wholesale move — though understandable, coaches said — sent waves of grief crashing through area programs.
“They’re heartbroken,” Brookville baseball coach Chris Glaize said of his team. “It’s like getting punched in the stomach.
“We understand why, but it still doesn’t take the heartbreak away.”
Glaize, whose team is coming off a state semifinal appearance in 2019, was especially hurt for the seven seniors on his team, most of whom will not play baseball competitively again.
Turille’s Glass soccer team featured 14 seniors. He still hasn’t fully figured out all the emotions or thoughts he wants to convey to them yet, saying he plans to write out an email addressing the abrupt end in the coming days. For now, though, he wants them to know he understands their hurt, and is especially disappointed the group of seniors won’t be able to put on a Glass jersey again, or take the field against rivals like Jefferson Forest or Liberty Christian.
“Playing sports my whole life, I know how important my senior season was to me. I’m an old man now, and I still remember everything about my senior year, and what we did and what we accomplished,” Turille said. “… They won’t have the same opportunities for memories of their senior year. Those memories have been lost to this unfortunate virus.
“… Unfortunately their memories are all gonna be about this damn virus rather than the good moments we had on the pitch and at Putt-Putt and Kings Dominion.”
Thompson, who also saw his final chance to coach his daughter, Liberty standout senior pitcher Millie Thompson, end Monday, called the last few weeks a rapid “downhill” slide.
He knew two weeks ago when his team unloaded the bus after a scrimmage the contest could have been its last together, but that didn’t do much to staunch the sadness Monday.
“There’s not good in any of this,” he said.
Glaize, of course, was just as disappointed, but pointed to the character of his team as what he’ll hold on to and what he thinks will carry players through.
“They’re resilient kids,” he said.
Emily Brown covers the Hillcats, ODAC and high school sports for The News & Advance. Reach her at (434) 385-5529.