Editor’s note: This is the first of a two-part series dealing with effects of the cancellation of the spring sports season due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
Nicolle Murphy has her sights on the 2020 Japan Summer Olympics.
That dream, like the dreams of others, has been put on hold due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
For some, this will be their only shot.
“Many thoughts have been running through my mind since hearing the news,” Murphy said. “Unfortunately, this decision impacts every single one of us in some way or another.”
Murphy, a 2013 Arkansas City High School and 2018 University of Minnesota graduate, has returned to her hometown to continue training for the U.S. Olympic team, where she hopes to compete in the javelin throw.
Home is about the only place for these athletes to get in some practice, as everything from colleges to recreation centers are closed due to the virus. But home is hardly the place for world championship-caliber athletes to get in a full workout.
The bigger question remains: What happens if the Olympic games are postponed?
“Everyone training for the Olympics is hungry for the same goal. Missing an entire season is a bummer to every one of the athletes striving for that goal,” Murphy said. “Many athletes who are trying for another Olympic team, trying for their first Olympic team, and even those who are coming back from injury and life (are thinking), ‘Do you feel like you have to decide on another year of college track eligibility vs. the Olympic Trials?’
“I’m sure a lot of hearts would be hurt with the news (of canceling the Olympics. “However, this is a trying time that will test everyone’s spiritual foundation. It a new opportunity for all competitors to get that much faster, stronger, healthier, etc. After everyone processes it on their own, they have the freedom to treat the road ahead as a new season.”
To play or not to play
The NCAA has granted college seniors who compete in the spring season an extra year of eligibility. But that doesn’t make it a definite that a student-athlete can compete for an extra year.
Abby Bertholf, a 2016 Winfield High School grad, is a senior on the women’s golf team at Southwestern College. She will be too busy to compete an extra year.
“It’s a bad deal for everybody,” Bertholf said. “I will not be competing next spring. If all goes as planned, I will be in medical school next year. This doesn’t leave me much time for golf.”
Riley Osen, also a 2016 WHS grad and a senior cross-country runner at Portland State University (Ore.), already has an extra year of eligibility because he redshirted his freshman year. However, that doesn’t make things any easier.
“This whole thing throws a big wrench in training because the next time I’ll probably race is September or October,” Osen said. “It really sucks having to wait that long, but I’m thankful that I have another season. Many of my teammates don’t have another season and their careers could be over.
“It really sucks for people that have had to end their sports careers because of this. My heart goes out to all the athletes that didn’t get their last season and especially to all the high-schoolers that don’t get to finish up their school/athletic careers with their friends.”
A mixed blessing
For Kelsey Daniel, the pandemic was somewhat a blessing in disguise.
Daniel, a 2019 Arkansas City High grad, is a freshman on the softball team at Friends University. Her season, however, ended early when she was injured a week before the pandemic began to spread. However, her Lady Falcons teammates had just started the KCAC schedule when games were postponed, followed by the cancellation of the season.
“My season was cut short due to an injury just a week prior to the virus, but it’s for sure heartbreaking for those who don’t get another opportunity to play the sport we’ve been playing for 16 years,” Daniel said. “When my team was sitting in my coach’s office talking about the whole situation, everyone was in tears and it was one of the hardest things to sit through because there’s really nothing any of us can do to prevent any of this.”
Daniel’s ACHS teammate, 2019 grad Kirsten Birdwell, plans to take advantage of the extra year of eligibility.
A freshman on the Neosho County softball team, Birdwell plans to play next spring as a redshirt freshman and in 2022 as a redshirt sophomore before transferring to a four-year school, where she expects to play as a redshirt junior and redshirt senior.
“I was first worried that I was losing a whole year, but now we are not getting penalized. Therefore, I will still have four years of eligibility,” Birdwell said. “I don’t think it will affect my career because I still have a chance to play and will continue playing at Neosho next year.”
That still doesn’t help her stay in softball shape while waiting for the fall exhibition season. Since the Center for Disease Control has asked everyone to self-quarantine, even grabbing a bunch of friends and going down to a local park is a risk.
“Athletes have spent their whole lives putting in so much time, dedication, effort, sweat and tears into their sport to just have it all taken away,” Birdwell said. “Playing sports has always been a part of my life. I have prepared my whole life to become a college athlete. When athletes are not in season, we are still preparing every day to get better, whether it is practicing, conditioning or weights.
“Playing isn’t the only thing that makes you love the game. Developing a close bond with your teammates and coaches makes you love your sport even more. Neosho softball was my second family. We had goals, we had dedication and we had heart. Then it was all over, just in a matter of seconds. Some of my best friends played their last softball game without even knowing it. Coach always says ‘Control the controllables.’ Therefore, we have to accept the fact that our season is over. This just makes me realize that I can’t take anything for granted, and I need to play like every game like it’s my last, because it may be.”
Good news, bad news
Owen Braungardt was in a “good news, bad news” situation.
A freshman at Missouri Baptist University, the 2019 Winfield High grad just finished his first season of collegiate wrestling before the pandemic struck. However, he had aspirations of being a two-sport athlete by playing baseball. Unfortunately, that won’t happen with the Spartans, and it won’t happen in Springfield, Mo.
Braungardt plans to transfer next semester to Grand View University in Des Moines, Iowa.
“I did not get to participate in the baseball season because of this virus,” Braungardt said. “It kind of puts things in perspective. I guess it’s a helpful factor in determining what your athletic level is. The guys who want to work hard and be better will do things on their own. That depicts the type of athletes they are.”
Braungardt said his baseball coach said he’ll have an extra year of eligibility, but finding training facilities pose a challenge for him, too.
“With all the big facilities and weight rooms and exercise places closed, you have to get creative with your workouts at home, going out for runs ... you’re not going to have the luxuries of going to the YMCA,” he said. “You have to get creative.”
Change of plans
The past few weeks have been a whirlwind for 2019 ACHS grad Kelsie Burr, a freshman on the Emporia State University women’s tennis team.
“The cancellation is a lot to fully comprehend and adjust to. I went from being in Emporia and attending class, practice and weights in a routine to being home within 24 hours,” Burr said. “It was emotionally a lot to deal with and take in — as a college athlete, your sport is such a large area in your life.”
Burr competed March 12 in a dual at Oklahoma Baptist and found out about the decision to postpone — and later cancel — the spring season just minutes after leaving the court.
“It was just a shocking moment, realizing I had just played my last match of my freshman year,” Burr said. “Right now the only thing that really affects my tennis career is just losing a season of play and not being able to engage in any conference play. What little we did play didn’t include any teams in the MIAA.”
Former teammate and 2019 ACHS grad Pierce Klaassen, a two-sport athlete in men’s tennis and track and field at Tabor College, said he had never heard of the COVID19 virus, but he was given a crash course when announcement came that the season had ground to a halt.
“My initial reaction to the cancellation of was spring sports was shock,” Klaassen said. “That week, we had our first conference match canceled due to concerns over COVID19, which I thought was crazy considering that I hadn’t even heard of a case anywhere close to our area. A day later, spring break was extended until April 5 and the news that spring sports had been canceled was released.
“I was pretty surprised and disappointed that the climax of both the track and tennis seasons were canceled, but nowadays, college sports are essentially all year around. I still got to compete a lot in both sports, which made the news easier to handle.”
Klaassen said he would not be able to utilize the extra year of eligibility.
“It is the appropriate gesture for the NAIA to offer, but I can probably speak for most college athletes that most (like myself) would prefer to move on with their lives after taking a traditional four-year route,” he said.
For now, Klaassen has his father for a tennis partner, and runs alone when he gets the chance.
“I still play tennis with my dad and run on my own, given that we uphold safe social distancing,” he said. “It’s tough to be doing it alone, but it provides entertainment during times where leaving the house to get together with friends is somewhat restricted. It also prepares me for my last three seasons of competing.”
We’re in, we’re not
Cevin Clark had his freshman season of men’s basketball cut short at Cowley College.
First the NCAA gaveth, then the NCAA tooketh away.
The Tigers were unable to win a Region VI championship and an automatic bid to the NJCAA National Championship. However, Cowley was one of a select schools that received an at-large bid to the National tourney.
Clark, a 2019 ACHS grad, along with his teammates went from joy to disappointment as news spread of the virus that ultimately caused cancellation of the National tourney.
“I think it’s shocking news for all of us for us student-athletes — we really don’t think of anything else besides school and competition, and having opportunities taken away from us was really tough, but I always try to think on the positive side,” Clark said. “I know people are scared of what they really don’t understand and I know a lot of humans everywhere don’t understand the total vastness of this virus yet. So if I can help prevent anyone from this illness by sitting out, then so be it.”
Murphy said she feels for those who are affected most by the cancellation of spring school activities and for students who have had what should have been the proverbial “best year of their lives” cut short due to a virus.
“My heart feels for those seniors who are losing out on some very memorable lasts in their youth years: last spring semester of high school, athletics, prom and graduation,” Murphy said. “The same goes for college seniors. One last chance to show off all the hard work after training year-round, whether you’re specializing in one sport or a multi-sport athlete.
“We spend so much time perfecting our craft for one season. That opportunity has been taken from many athletes.”