LIVE OAK — Even though he expected the news to come, it still hit like a load of bricks that Friday afternoon.
Hamilton County baseball coach Chris Howard, having seen Valdosta High and other Georgia schools just to the north have their spring seasons canceled, was expecting a similar situation here in North Florida.
But when the news came March 13 that all schools in the state were being closed for at least two weeks and taking games and practices with them, it was still tough to take.
“It kind of caught us in shock,” Howard said as the Trojans were preparing to leave for a game that evening. “It’s heartbreaking, especially for senior kids.
“I hate to say too much because life is more important, but it really is heartbreaking.”
The Lafayette High softball team was already in Perry for a district game against Taylor County when coach Derek Garland heard the news.
Not knowing how long the suspension of the season would last, Garland tried to keep the bad news away from the Hornets before the game, to no avail.
Still, he said the focus was on that district game at the time.
“we just tried to focus on the task at hand,” he said. “Then after the game we kind of discussed everything.
“Really, I feel bad for our seniors who have put so much into it, that being taken away from them here at the end.”
Even during the post-game discussion, though, Garland said he tried to be positive. He focused on what the Hornets’ senior class meant to the program and had provided, noting the key contributions in Lafayette’s 2-1 win against Taylor, including a diving catch by Maddie Koons that ended the game.
“Instead of what they’ve lost, focused on what they’ve provided for us, being a part of the success we’ve had over the last 20 years,” Garland said.
At Suwannee High School, the Bulldogs’ inaugural flag football team had a team meeting that afternoon which had just ended when the news came out that the schools were closing.
SHS coach Ricky Hufty said one of his players actually broke the news to him.
After checking with the team and making sure all of the players were on the same page and letting them know that himself and assistant Laura Kinsel were available if anybody needed anything, Hufty said he looks back on Suwannee’s game the night before against Rickards.
Prior to that game, Hufty said he kind of told the team that something could be on the horizon.
“We always stress to enjoy the moment because they do go by fast,” Hufty said. “I mean you blink and the season’s gone, whether something like this is going on or not. But then we did say, ‘Hey guys we don’t know what’s going to happen with all this, so we don’t know when this all could come to an end very abruptly, so just enjoy everything while you have it and leave it all out there.
“It was ironic.”
As tough and heartbreaking as the situation has been for the players, especially the seniors, the coaches say it has helped keep things in perspective as well.
“It just reminds you that this is just a game that we’re playing, that there is something bigger than the game of softball,” Garland said.
Hufty added: “It’s unfounded territory for all of us, and not just in sports but in life in general. So it’s definitely trying to take it all in stride and keep it in perspective.
“We’d all love to be out there and still playing, but obviously there’s bigger things at stake right now.”