By Jeff Harrison
Back in 1989, the movie “Field of Dreams” featured the phrase “If you build it, he will come”.
If a movie is made about the spring of 2020, it might be known as the “Season of Lost Dreams” with the unfortunate tag line “you can’t play it, and no one can come.”
While there’s no official word and the spring sports are currently labeled as “postponed” or “on hold”, it’s getting closer and closer to the likelihood that we may not hear the crack of the bat or the firing of the starter’s gun all due to the worldwide coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
Currently, Gov. Mike DeWine’s shutdown of all schools in Ohio and the resulting suspension of OHSAA athletics is to last at least until April 6th, meaning the earliest events could begin is April 11th. Many states including neighboring West Virginia, however, have already pushed the projected return date to April 20th and a few others (with more to follow) closing for the remainder of the school year.
That leaves athletes, coaches and athletic administrators “dazed and confused”, and that of course includes the ones right here in Noble County, so are some thoughts from the Caldwell and Shenandoah spring coaches and ADs:
Justin Erb, Caldwell baseball – “This whole situation has been a shock and a challenge for all of us,” he said. “For the baseball team at Caldwell, I think there a lot of emotions. We came in to the season with excitement and curiosity toward the type of season that we could have had, and now we are leaning on the hope that the players will get a chance to play this great game together.
“Personally, I feel terrible for the seniors,” the Redskins’ boss said of Kam Hesson, Andrew Bjork, Brice West, Bradley Michael and Doug Strode. “We had five this year, three of which are four-year players. I feel helpless that they won’t get the experience and memories of the senior year that they deserve.
“The players are doing what they can on their own, throwing and getting some swings in,” he added. “However, we can’t do anything as a team.”
Matt Weddle, Shenandoah baseball – “My thoughts on this have many emotions attached,” he said. “It’s a very sad situation to be in. It’s unchartered grounds that most of us are not sure how to deal with it, and I’ve kinda taken the “it is what it is” stance.
“I hope that we get to play some games this year,” Weddle continued, “I truly feel bad for the team that has worked so hard in the offseason and especially the seniors (Kendal Sherman, Easton Hitchens, Logan Waers, Hunter Watson, Kade Varhola and Ryan Wood) as this was my first real senior class. In the past couple years I’ve only had three seniors total and this year alone I have six – all returning letterman and ready for the season.
“With the time away, I’ve tried to make some positives out of the situation, and it’s given us some time to work on the field,” the Zeps’ coach said. “We reset all the bases, mound, home plate, and all the cutouts to regulation size. We have new walk-ups and a warning track. I’ve also got to spend some quality time with my wife and kids that I normally wouldn’t have and this has kept me out of divorce court for one more season. (lol).
“I have reached out to the kids and offered just someone to talk to if they needed,” Weddle stated. “To update them with every update I get and sometimes they update me before I know it. These seniors just want one more chance. The other day, I went down to the field and just set in the dugout wondering…listening to the sounds…reminiscing about dugout talk…wishing we were playing, practicing, anything.
“It’s a challenging time as a coach, but it is even more challenging for the kids,” he closed. “We can only hope to grow from this. We repeat to the kids to leave it all on the field because you never know what can happen. I don’t think they will take those messages for granted anymore.”
Dugan Hill, Caldwell track – “This is a first in my 41 years of coaching,” acknowledged Hill. “I don’t think I have not been inside Caldwell High school for three weeks straight in 41 years.
“Missing being around my kids is by far the hardest and most disappointing aspect of this,” he continued. “We practiced the 16th (of March) and that is the last time I have seen my kids. No contact started the 17th and that is the most difficult to deal with.
“We sent workouts for sprinters and throwers to do on their own for three week or through April 5th,” Hill said, referring to the game plan to stay in shape for a possible shortened season. “Our distance runners for a while were getting together and doing the workouts we normally would do, but then came the stay at home order but they are still doing their workouts.
“We are not practicing from my home and I have not seen my athletes as per OHSAA rules,” said Hill in an effort to clarify some ‘rumors’. “A couple of people have called the school because they see my kids running, but I am not with them during any of this. I biked with my daughter the other day while she ran, and the school was called about me practicing with my kids.
“I have seniors that are going on to school to run at the next level,” he added, “and these kids need to progress through a season of workouts as best as they can so it develops them as best as possible for next year.The governor has told us to get out of the house and exercise just to adhere to social distancing, so running is allowed.”
Caldwell’s seniors include Mason Ackley, Tyler Whetstone, Bailey Miller, Johnna Border, Chloe McAuley, Crystal Goman and Andrew Gregg.
Hill thinks the school closings will be extended and threaten the entire spring season in the process.
“West Virginia will not go back to school until at least April 20th,” he pointed out, “so it is hard for me to see us going back any sooner than that. I personally think we will have to start school in order to have a spring season and I think that start will have to be very close to May 1st or the season will not happen, but that is just my opinion.
“The people I feel sorry for the most are the seniors,” said the veteran CHS coach. “Some of mine will go on to run and some will not, but none of them will get to experience the journey the way they should of their final high school track season.
“This is very unfortunate, but the safety of our kids and their families are more important than any extracurricular activity,” Hill added, “but extracurriculars are also very important in the life process physically and mentally. I just hope everyone understands the holistic approach to this.”
Anna Slevin, Shenandoah track – “As a first year head coach this was one hurdle I was not expecting,” she said. “Due to boys’ basketball going later in the postseason, I truly only had two full practices and just as we were finally starting to get into the groove of things, many questions in regard to COVID-19 came about. I am still at a loss of words. This is something that no coach ever plans for.
“I have turned into a virtual coach, said Slevin of trying to keep her team both physically and mentally prepared. “Keeping in contact about how things are going with them academically and athletically and reminding them that this is a difficult time, but it’s a time to be accountable and independent. It is hard to not be there and help them directly, but staying positive through messaging is crucial.
“As for the four seniors – Avery Bruer, Aden Laipply, Mya Stahl and Whitney Dixon – this is rough as not only is their school year in limbo, but their track and field season also. As youth, it is hard to see the bigger picture when their high school career is winding down, but unfortunately sometimes things beyond our power changes the outcomes. Looking back when coaches say ‘give it your all,’ they truly mean give it your all because you never know when it can be taken away or even be over.”
Doug Pfeffer, Caldwell softball – “To say that this is disappointing is an understatement,” said Pfeffer. “The girls had been working extremely hard for this season and we were going to be young in several positions, but they were hungry to play. We had three pitchers ready to go for the season and we were looking really strong 1-6 in the lineup.
“The girls and coaches are disappointed that we are not playing,” he continued. “I wish we could go back and restart this season with no virus. I believe we were ready to have another successful season. This has been very boring time, and we should be on the diamond playing ball. I hope these girls can play this year because it would be great to play one more time.”
Just like the other coaches, Pfeffer feels especially sad for his seniors.
“We had four seniors looking to finish out their careers this season – Leslie Pfeffer, Kendal Cobb, Madison Sayre and Emy Kowalski. I feel bad for the seniors who are looking to finish their year with softball, prom and graduation. Leslie was looking to be back on the field after ankle injury put her out most of last season and ankle surgery put her out of cross country and most of basketball. She was hoping to be able to finish on a strong note.
“I know several players are continuing to work on their own to get better and be prepared for when or if the season does continue, he added. “Kendall and Leslie talk almost daily about being able to play one more game together, and we will be ready to play when the season begins.”
“I feel bad for the girls at Fort Frye and the boys from Meadowbrook who had state championships in their grasp, he added, “and all the baseball, softball and track athletes who have not been able to take the field yet.”
Scott Davis, Shenandoah softball – “I feel really bad for all of the girls, especially the seniors,” he said, referring to Katie Turner, Allie Wildroudt, Cheyenne Kirk, Edynn Roberts, Raegan Flood and Natasha Carpenter. “We had two girls (Turner and Wildroudt) who would be four-year letterwinners and this will also mean that our large group of freshmen won’t be able to do that (become four-year letterwinners) down the road.
“I text the girls to tell them to hang in there and that I hope they are doing OK,” Davis continued. “I encouraged them to do what they can to stay ready to play, but it’s not looking good at this point.
“We’ll just have to wait and see for now,” said the Lady Zeps’ coach, “but if we don’t get to play this year, we’ll make plans to play in the Cambridge Summer League if they’re able to have it to get ready for next year.”
Eli Svercek, Caldwell Athletic Director – “This is a tough time for athletes and families. With the winter sports cancellations, I can’t help but think of those from surrounding areas who are affected by this – Shenandoah’s wrestlers, Fort Frye’s girls’ basketball team and Meadowbrook’s boys’ basketball team. It’s hard to watch them compete and put so much effort and energy into their sports and not be able to reap the rewards of their sacrifices, time and effort.”
Like everyone, Svercek remains in a wait-and-see mode about what will happen to school and in turn, the spring sports.
“When I think of spring sports right now and the limbo the players and coaches have to work within, it’s just as tough,” he said. “You have athletes and coaches who have dedicated so much time and for them not to be able to play/coach right now, it’s tough.
“I think of our seniors, especially, some who may even be one-sport athletes,” Svercek continued, “and this is supposed to be their last season to play so that’s heart-wrenching. How do you tell an athlete that it’s over, before it even started? During these times, we are reminded how important sports and interscholastic activities are to our students, athletes and communities.
“Looking ahead, I believe our community will respond and rally behind the idea that nothing is ever guaranteed and that we have to take advantage of opportunities when they present themselves,” he said. “We will respond and show up for our athletes in any capacity that we can. From my understanding and talking with coaches and athletes, they are heart-broken and just want to be on the field or on the track. They want to be out there and they want to be back in school with their teachers, friends and mentors. “Whatever way OHSAA rules on spring sports, I know our coaches and the athletic department will continue to be there for our athletes and will do whatever is in our power to put their wants and needs at the forefront and look to give them the best possible outcomes,” Svercek continued. “We will continue to stay hopeful that we can return to school this year and be able to hold a spring sports season. We owe it to our athletes to stay positive during this time and I have faith that at the end of the day the OHSAA will make the best decision they can with the information that they have.”
Eric Sholtis, Shenandoah Athletic Director – “Firstly, I am so proud of all of our winter student-athletes and also disappointed in the end for Easton, Drake and Alex,” he said. “It is also a disappointment for so many teams in our area.”
Much like Svercek, Sholtis says the Zeps are hoping for the best.
“As of right now, our spring sports are on hold and we cannot wait to get back to playing,” he said. “It is such a disappointment for so many student-athletes, but right now the priority needs to be the health and well-being of everyone in our community.
“I hope that our community takes this health crisis seriously,” Sholtis continued. “Although we are disappointed that we are unable to have our sports now, the hope is we can get through this and get back to Interscholastic Athletics. #WeGotThis”