The COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent measures to stop the spread have put most lives in the United States at a standstill, and that number includes those revolving around high school athletics.
(TNS) — Pinging bats. Swinging racquets. Shrinking times. Longer throws. Bigger jumps.
All elements of the spring sports season for area high schools, but all have gone missing through the end of March and into the first week of April.
This time, temperamental spring weather in Pennsylvania isn’t to blame.
Gov. Tom Wolf ordered that schools be closed indefinitely before expanding a stay-at-home decree to all 67 counties across the commonwealth.
The COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent measures to stop the spread have put most lives at a standstill, including those revolving around high school athletics.
The PIAA’s most recent update on the matter of spring sports, along with resuming its winter championships for basketball and Class AA swimming came on March 30, following Wolf’s order to keep school buildings closed indefinitely. In that update, the PIAA noted that “no action was taken regarding the start of spring sports or the possible re-start of the winter championships.”
The PIAA also noted in that release that it will continue to receive and assess information from the governor’s office, the Department of Health and the Department of Education before making any decisions regarding restarting sports activities.
Needless to say, there is still a heaping helping of uncertainty surrounding the status of spring sports in the region, with many teams opening practices in early March, just before the first wave of school closures wiped out the possibility of gathering teams for practices or competitions.
While the schedules have been idle, area coaches are working to keep themselves and their athletes active and thinking about their respective sports, even when the uncertainty of being able to practice and play together has seemingly grown on a daily basis.
It has presented unique challenges and scenarios for area coaches.
Windber softball coach Cory Pavlosky has described the situation as fluid.
The Ramblers had logged some practice time in March with the season set to begin in the final days of the month. Then the first edict from the governor arrived, closing school buildings for at least two weeks, effective March 16.
“We had some practices before all of this started to go where it went to so far,” Pavlosky said. “We’re pretty upfront with them. We’re pretty transparent. We talked to them about it in little group sessions before we were dismissed. We told them that there’s all kinds of situations, all kinds of scenarios.”
Maintaining the lines of communication has been vital in ensuring that players are keeping softball in their routines.
“We chat via text,” Pavlosky said. “We follow each other on social media outlets. For school, we’ll be communicating via Google Hangouts and some things like that.”
The ability to digitally communicate has set up a de facto honor system to show that the athletes are taking the time to get in some kind of activity.
“They’ve been taking it upon themselves,” Pavlosky said. “I’ve seen videos on social media, pictures on social media, of the girls doing individual workouts – be it in their backyard, or playing pitch and catch with a family member, or something like that.
“Our girls are finding a way to keep moving a little bit. I told them ‘even if it comes down to a slight little jog or something, go for a walk. Stay active.’ They’ve been doing a great job trying to maintain.”
Portage track and field coach Lance Hudak is also championing technology as a way to stay in contact.
“We’ve just really been using technology to try to keep in touch with them,” Hudak said. “This is tough for everybody. It gets real easy to sit around the house, and watch television and eat, and not be very athletic at a time when you need to be.
“Also, I have a lot of good veteran leaders on the team that have taken this into their own hands a lot, too.”
Greater Johnstown Athletic Director and baseball coach Kerry Pfeil noted that keeping his players’ skills sharp can extend beyond taking the diamond for the Trojans, even in times of frustration and disappointment for the students.
“It is a very difficult concept for them to understand,” Pfeil said. “By communicating with them and letting them know that they should be working on things … What they’re working on now, even if there’s not a PIAA season, it’s things that are going to apply when they move on to their summer baseball season, if that occurs.”
Pavlosky is also mindful of balancing the mental health of his players while nudging them to stay in softball shape as they can.
“I’ve tried blasting out a couple unique workouts or posting some drill videos or things like that,” Pavlosky said. “I told them, ‘even if it came down to doing pushups during commercial breaks.’ The biggest thing we told them was to take care of their families and take care of themselves. That’s the most important.
“If it’s a stressful situation, it’s sometimes good to get out and get some fresh air. The weather has actually been beautiful. We probably would have played that first week of softball for the first time in God knows how long.”
Hudak, who is also the varsity cross country coach and the girls’ basketball coach at Portage, has pointed out the struggles caused by something as simple as a scheduling pattern being taken away.
It’s been jarring for the veteran coach.
“It’s difficult,” Hudak said. “It’s structure. I coach three sports from cross country to basketball into track. It’s been part of my life for 20 years, and to not have that right now is an empty feeling. Just not having that structure this spring is bizarre, and I’m hoping to have a spring season.”
While Hudak has been without a familiar structure, it hasn’t dampened his spirits in terms of eventually seeing his athletes compete this season.
“I’m a positive guy and I still believe that this (season) can happen,” Hudak said. “If it’s the beginning of May, let’s have some type of spring sports season.”
Pavlosky expressed a similar mindset with the Ramblers among many programs waiting on an update.
“We’re ready to get going,” Pavlosky said. “We’re ready to play some ball.”
And if they can play some ball?
“If it’s an abbreviated season, we’re hopefully going to be ready,” Pavlosky said. “If it’s a normal season with the games crammed in, they know they’re going to be busy.”
Pfeil’s post as athletic director has added perspective on the matter while allowing him to absorb knowledge from leaders in other school districts.
“It’s kind of a waiting game,” Pfeil said. “We have great leadership in the (Laurel Highlands Athletic Conference) with athletic directors, and I’ve been using their experience in my communication with my administration. Just to realize that we need to sit back and wait for the PIAA and the government to come up with a decision. As time goes on, we have our plans in our heads … But we know at any given second, they can be adjusted or eventually we can get a green light to go ahead and practice.”
During the waiting period, all three are aware of the emotional blow if the season were to be canceled.
“Your heart just breaks for your senior players,” Pfeil said. “Your underclassmen are going to move up, but your seniors were finally getting that last year and right now, through nobody’s fault of their own, it’s not happening.”
Pavlosky noted the uncertainty: “We haven’t had a discussion yet, especially with the seniors, because we don’t know. I’m sure it’s in their minds. If it comes down to where that’s announced, we’ll do our best to try to talk them through it and work them through it. They have to understand that it’s a situation they have to battle through, just like anyone else. But we haven’t had that discussion yet.”
Hudak’s sentiment carried the same emotion.
“Disappointment. Especially for the seniors,” Hudak said. “You’ve got to feel for them. You have kids in whatever spring sport doing this their whole lives. They’ve worked at this and spent a lot of money to become better through travel sports and different camps.”
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