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Unprecedented Response: Coronavirus precautions put local athletes in jeopardy of losing seasons

Unprecedented Response: Coronavirus precautions put local athletes in jeopardy of losing seasons

Pick a word to describe the coronavirus crisis and it will most likely ring true for at least one cross section of the population. Unprecedented comes to mind first.

For the area athletes, especially the high school seniors and community college sophomores, it’s a special kind of uncertainty. Most of those athletes will not play at the next level, so their final high school season could very well mark the end of their careers, some with state titles within their grasp.

The round of postponements and cancellations that came down on Friday are certainly frustrating and disappointing for those athletes who don’t know what the future will hold. And those feelings are absolutely understandable from their vantage.

“I think the whole situation is overwhelming, not just from a baseball standpoint,” Chase Staup of Kalama said. “Many people have different opinions on the decision of the state canceling the season until further notice and personally I feel the health department is really over-exaggerating the seriousness of the coronavirus but we have to do what’s safe.”

Staup, a senior and key piece to a Chinook squad that placed second in state last year, is now facing the very real possibility of losing his shot at redemption on the diamond.

“Our senior season is potentially over due to a freak outbreak that will forever go down in history and this is something we will talk to our own kids about,” Staup explained. “It’s heartbreaking knowing that we may not get to complete our senior season of baseball. I feel horrible for all senior athletes affected by this, but sometimes life hits you with situations that you really can’t control.”

That attitude is echoed by other local seniors, including Staup’s fellow Chinooks.

“I mean, it sucks for seniors,” Kalama’s Jackson Hull said, “especially coming off a state championship loss last year. We were really hoping to make it back and get revenge this year. We will keep our hopes up on playing this year. This coronavirus seems serious, but I feel like six weeks is a little extensive. (We) hope to be back on the diamond one last time.”

Hull is right. Six weeks a long time.

The earliest Washington schools can return to action is April 27, but even then teams would only be returning for practice. Even a best-case scenario would also mean a truncated season that doesn’t involve any non-league games and school administrators still don’t have any idea what the postseason would look like.

In Oregon, meanwhile, a potential return to the competition isn’t quite as far off with schools scheduled to pick back up as early as March 31.

“We’re on board,” Clatskanie athletic director Ryan Tompkins said. “We’re just waiting on top-down stuff now. The governors are pretty much making the calls.”

League officials have already begun talking about contingency plans, but those talks are all theoretical at this point since nobody is sure what’s going to happen next. The surge of unexpected developments this week has left everyone involved wary of projecting or predicting the future.

“That word explode is a good one,” Mark Morris athletic director Robert Blackman said. “It just happened so quickly in the last 48 hours. We’re in a lot different places (now) than we were two or three days ago, for sure.”

In Kalama the baseball coach is feeling similar sentiments to his veteran players.

“It’s really tough to tell,” Kalama coach Brandon Walker said. “It’s not changing weekly, it’s not changing daily. It’s changing hourly now. It’s really, really bizarre.”

That rapid and unexpected developments definitely played into the frustration and disappointment for everyone with a vested interest in spring sports.

The Mat Classic went off as planned, as did all the remaining winter Washington and Oregon state tournaments. It seemed distantly unlikely that the spring would be affected at all, much less to such a severe degree.

But then the dominoes started falling.

When the NWAC postponed, rescheduled, and moved its basketball championships. It was one of the first signs this tsunami was coming.

Then sports at the higher levels started banning fans from attending games. Then the NBA postponed its season for at least 30 days and every other major sport followed suit. This all happened within days and the ripple effects have been wide spread.

When it was announced that schools throughout Oregon and Washington would be closed for weeks on end it became clear that high school spring sports were in a precarious position. When the NWAC suspended its baseball and softball seasons the proverbial writing was on the wall.

“My reaction to the decision is that it’s a good one,” Lower Columbia College athletic director Kirc Roland said. “I think that we all need a chance to step back and certainly think about the safety and health of our student-athletes, and also try to see where we’re going and how it will play out. Right now, that gives us a few weeks to make sure that we’re doing right by our student-athletes.”

As of Saturday the LCC campus remained open but an effort was underway to take as many classes online as possible.

Friday, which should have been a day for final preparation before games began, turned into an impromptu opportunity for the coaches to break the bad news to their players.

They were difficult conversations, to be sure.

“Remind ‘em how much I love them and how tough it is,” Kelso baseball coach Tom D’Aboy said as he prepared to meet with his players for perhaps the final time. “It’s not gonna be an easy conversations. Especially when we had a chance to be a pretty good team this year. We had some pretty lofty aspiration and goals with this group and we played together a lot. We had a really good summer. It was the best first 10 practices I‘ve had in my six years here. To have it taken away so abruptly is a tough thing.”

In the face of all the uncertainty, though, there is still a great deal of perseverance so commonly seen in sports. There’s also the notion of holding dear to something and not taking it for granted.

With the end of his prep career hanging in the balance Castle Rock senior baseball player Cole Hooper had the following advice for those players who know they will be able to return to the diamond next year.

“Athletes: just remember and play every game like it’s your last, because you’ll never know what’s gonna happen,” Hooper said.

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