The coronavirus outbreak resulted in the NCAA canceling its winter and spring sports championship seasons, as well as many high schools across the country stopping play.
Scott Van Pelt hosted a Twitter thread Friday night to celebrate those athletes with the send-offs they should have received. Many athletes may have played their last games without even realizing it.
They won’t have a chance to savor their final moments on the court, on the mat or on the field. This story is to give them a shout-out.
‘This is it for most of them’
The Central High School boys’ basketball team in Little Rock, Arkansas, was a sub-.500 team in mid-February. Their second three-game losing streak of the season dropped the Tigers to 11-12. Then they got hot.
Central won its final four regular-season games and three games in the Arkansas 6A state basketball tournament to make the championship game for the first time in 20 years. The last time the team won it, a player by the name of “Iso Joe” Johnson was leading the team.
“This would have been the biggest game they ever played in their lives, for sure,” coach Brian Ross said.
The Tigers have six seniors on the team, none of whom started the previous season because the 2018-19 team also had five seniors. The players went from backups to starters, changing their styles of play and taking on new roles on the court so they could win.
“We probably weren’t the most talented team in the conference or in the state,” Ross said, “but there was this sense of continual improvement all year, and guys bought in and were playing hard.”
After they beat defending state champion Northside — the No. 2 seed that beat Central by 19 twice in the regular season — by three points in the state semis, the Tigers had five days to prepare for a championship matchup against Conway.
Just minutes after Ross left the gym following Thursday’s practice, he found out that the Arkansas Activities Association (AAA) had postponed the remainder of the basketball tournament due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“You’re heartbroken for them,” Ross said, talking about his senior class of Karter Allen, Jeremiah Jones, Jordan Phifer, CJ Price, Daniel Washington and Johnnie White. “I was talking with my wife and was like, ‘Gosh, this really stinks for me, but I get to come back and do this next year, regardless of whether we finish the season or not. And they don’t.’ This is it for most of them.”
The AAA used the word “postponed” instead of “canceled,” offering perhaps a little hope that the championship game can be played in April or May. Even though Ross admits that seems like a long shot, he said, “We’re wanting to hold on to that hope for as long as we can.”
The past couple of days haven’t been easy for Ross. The school district shut down for the next week, and the week after is spring break. He doesn’t know when he’ll see his players next.
Instead of focusing on this, he’s looking at the big picture: seeing how his players grew over the past several months, how much they learned and the power sports can give them now and beyond.
“Hopefully they’re going to be more successful the rest of their lives as a result of the things they did this year in being part of this basketball team,” Ross said. “We can still hang on and be proud of those things, even if we don’t get a chance to play this last game.”
‘We see him as a really, really good baseball player’
Preston High School coach Glen McNew III didn’t think twice about having Ethan Haskiel play baseball. He saw Haskiel’s natural talent. It didn’t matter that Haskiel was born missing his right hand due to amniotic band syndrome.
“He has a disability, but he doesn’t want anyone to treat him like that, never has, and we don’t,” McNew said. “We just see him as a really, really good baseball player.”
Haskiel has succeeded at almost everything he’s attempted, from fishing to shooting a bow to playing baseball. As a junior with the Knights, he had a .409 on-base percentage and a .316 batting average, marking the third straight year he hit over .300. At first base, he transfers the ball out of his glove and into his throwing hand as quickly as anybody McNew has seen.
“I actually had to video him and watch it in slow-motion to see how he got it in and out of his glove so fast,” McNew said.
This year, Haskiel was getting ready to play his first year of high school ball with his younger brother, Tanner, a freshman shortstop. They had practice Thursday — “probably the best practice we’ve had in three years, to be honest,” McNew said — and were getting ready for a scrimmage over the weekend.
Thursday afternoon, the West Virginia Secondary School Activities Commission (WVSSAC) announced it was suspending the boys’ and girls’ basketball tournaments because of the coronavirus outbreak. By Friday, that decision affected spring sports.
“It’s going to feel like there’s part of me missing this year,” Haskiel said. “I was looking forward to this year since my freshman year. … And now it’s just gone.”
Haskiel hasn’t closed the door on playing beyond high school. He said he has been in communication with Youngstown State and a couple of local junior colleges. He hopes American Legion is still an option for him.
McNew is holding out hope for an abbreviated season. But if that doesn’t happen, he and some of the coaches in their conference suggested that they could split up seniors from each school, pay umpires themselves and play one more game together.
“So they don’t go their entire senior year without having to play,” McNew said.
An ‘unsettling’ ending
Marisa Shorrock, a senior captain of the Staples High girls basketball team in Westport, Connecticut, was hoping to lead her No. 1-ranked team to the state championship. Instead, she and her teammates learned the day before their state semifinal game — and her 18th birthday — that the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference had canceled the state tournament. Shorrock expressed her thoughts about the cancellation in an article she wrote for the Ruden Report.
Although Shorrock is heartbroken, as are many athletes throughout the country, it was the abrupt ending that affected her most. She wrote: “Although I absolutely hate losing, nothing is worse than not even being able to compete. There’s no closure. It’s unsettling.”
‘Thank you, Tommy’
Tommy Luce is a senior who walked on to the Purdue men’s basketball team and was the heart of the Boilermakers. He might have been able to play in the Big Ten tournament, with Purdue set to face Ohio State on Thursday. Instead, his last moment on the court took place on Feb. 5, a blowout home win against 17th-ranked Iowa. Luce got his moment and hit two 3-pointers in the waning minutes, with Mackey Arena erupting in cheers.
This season, Arizona’s women’s basketball team was set to reach its first women’s NCAA tournament since 2005. Not only that, but the Wildcats were primed to host first- and second-round games in the Big Dance. Head coach Adia Barnes saluted her senior class, which would have broken the program record for wins in a season if it had reached the Sweet 16.
A fitting name
IUPUI won its first Horizon League championship on Tuesday to clinch what would have been its first women’s NCAA tournament appearance. The Jags were led by Holly Hoopingarner, the conference tournament MVP, with 16 points and four assists in the championship game.
Montana State’s women’s basketball team was on pace for a record season. It went 19-1 in the Big Sky in the regular season and won its two conference tournament games by an average of 13 points. Fallyn Freije, who averaged 13.7 points and 7.7 rebounds to be named Big Sky MVP, is one of five seniors on the Bobcats who will wonder what might have been.
A record gymnast
Denver gymnast Maddie Karr broke the Pioneers’ record for career titles, and her team had a meet against Nebraska and the Big 12 championships to go before the NCAA tournament.
A walk-off for the captain
No, we’re not talking about Derek Jeter. Tim Brigham totaled 17 plate appearances as a sophomore for Suffolk University in 2017. By 2019, he was a D3Baseball.com All-New England Honorable Mention who hit .390 with 45 RBIs in 42 games. He was a graduate student this year, and in his final game, he hit a walk-off single in the bottom of the eighth inning.
There goes that man again
Brigham wasn’t the only senior to end his college career with a walk-off. Riley Willbur, a senior outfielder for Division III Transylvania University, lined a game-winning single down the first-base line to end a wild 10-9 game over Capital University on Wednesday.
A special senior ceremony
Concordia University Chicago found out that it would be playing its last softball game a couple of hours before its matchup against Alfred University. Although the Cougars weren’t home, Alfred University honored Concordia’s senior class, letting them run onto the field in a ceremony.
What’s more, Concordia won the game on Becky Pieroni’s walk-off three-run home run.
We’ll never know
Arroyo Grande High School in California was headed to the first state championship finals in school history. The Eagles won 28 games and were set to play in the state finals at the Sacramento Kings’ Golden 1 Center. But the California Interscholastic Federation halted the season days before the championship game.
“We’re definitely saddened and disappointed to not have the opportunity to compete … but the biggest thing is we couldn’t be prouder of the boys’ basketball program,” athletic director Stephen Field told the San Luis Obispo Tribune.
A record unbroken
Pete Schommer was quarterback for Pierz (Minnesota) High School’s state championship football team. As a pitcher, he threw a perfect game in last year’s season opener. Oh, and he was a good basketball player, too.
Schommer played in all of the Pioneers’ 109 games since his freshman season. He had one game left on the schedule: the Section 7-2A Championship. That game would have been his last chance to break the school’s all-time scoring record, of which he was eight points shy.
More than basketball
Sullivan South (Kingsport, Tennessee) was off to a record season. The Rebels went 28-5 overall and clinched a berth in the state tournament with a 76-70 win over Alcoa on Monday, the school’s first state tourney appearance in its 40-year history.
That could be its only berth. Sullivan South, Sullivan North and Sullivan Central high schools will be consolidated into West Ridge High School beginning in August 2021.
The Rebels won’t have a chance to play in the state tournament. But their senior class can say it made history.
ESPN.com associate editor Matt Eisenberg contributed to this report.
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