The hammer was dropped on the GHSA spring sports season last week.
First, when Gov. Brian Kemp mandated that all Georgia public schools will remain closed for face-to-face instruction for the remainder of the current academic year. Shortly after, GHSA Executive Director Dr. Robin Hines said in a statement that that made his decision much easier when it came to canceling spring sports and activities. He formally announced that all games, practices and even team workouts are canceled until further notice due to the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic, removing any hope of a shortened spring season.
Word of the cancellation spread quickly, so coaches in reaching out to players and parents took on the role of counselor. As has been the case in recent weeks, The Union-Recorder asked local high school coaches how they broke the news to their student-athletes.
Baldwin High School head boys soccer coach Brad Bell and his Braves were midway through the region schedule when the season was halted. The mostly young, inexperienced squad was struggling at just 1-6 but now will never know if they could have turned the season around.
“I was able to share a short video with them via the Teams app expressing my disappointment about the way the season ended, especially for our seniors, and thanking them for their hard work,” Bell said. “I just encouraged them to keep their heads up and hang in there with their online learning. I got a lot of responses back expressing love for their teammates, which was really cool to see. I know they are disappointed, but they are pushing through.”
Also on the soccer field, the GMC Prep girls under head coach Tommy Howell were 5-2 and prepping for their biggest match of the year when play stopped. Their March 14 game against ACE Charter, last year’s state champion, was likely going to be a good measuring stick for the program. The Lady Dogs were state semifinalists a year ago and looking to get past that plateau into the title game. Even worse than not knowing if they were going to accomplish that feat though is the fact that no one knew when the season was initially just suspended that it would be the end of not just competition, but the camaraderie that goes along with playing a team sport.
“I told my players that I am disappointed and heartbroken, especially for the seniors,” Coach Howell said. “We stopped the season with the expectation of finishing it up. I really never said goodbye to the seniors in person and at this time, we are not sure when we can get together and celebrate.”
Over on the baseball diamond, GMC Prep head coach Rusty Courson says he sent out group texts to players and parents sharing the bad news, but also gave them a little something to look forward to. The team, including its two seniors Justin Alford and Ryan Barsby, may not get together to compete again, but will still hold a postseason banquet sometime after an all-clear is given.
“To the players, I just said I was sorry for the way it ended and to abide by the rules and stay safe,” said Courson. “Talking to the parents of the two seniors they are still working on their own. Justin is going to play at Covenant College and Ryan is looking to walk on at Vanderbilt where he will begin in August. Having the two seniors still grinding to get better is a testament to their leadership.”
Courson’s Bulldogs were 9-2 and would have entered the state playoffs if the regular season ended at the time games were stopped.
No John Milledge Academy coaches participated in The Union-Recorder’s “Question of the Week” this week, and with good reason. The GISA (Georgia Independent School Association), of which JMA is a member, is not under the purview of the governor and has not called its spring season as of yet. Coaches, players and families are hoping the light at the end of the tunnel that is the COVID-19 pandemic shows itself soon so the season may resume.