With the COVID-19 outbreak altering every aspect of life on a global scale, it’s no secret that organized sports are suffering a huge blow.
And because of the lack of sports at the scholastic level, a large number of high school kids are being denied the opportunity to pursue their dreams. Of course, that includes a whole lot of seniors who won’t be enjoying their final season, or getting the chance to show their stuff one more time before moving to the college level.
Locally, that list of involuntarily sidelined players includes several seniors on the Houston High School baseball team who were poised to lead the squad on a run at a rare district championships repeat.
One is Jacob Koch, who was set to be a key pitcher and infielder for the Tigers and will move on to play at the next level with North Arkansas College in Harrison, Ark.
“I feel like something is missing in my life not getting to play the game I love,” Koch said. “I feel like someone has stolen my happiness. I keep hearing that I will get to play ball in college, but it isn’t the same because not knowing what could of been with my high school team is tough as we have all worked so hard.
“The only thing I miss the most is my teammates. They have been there for me during my best and worst times on the field and off by never giving up hope and always have my back. They keep pushing me to do better and I have no doubt that they are the reason I am who I am today.”
In similar fashion, members of the HHS softball team were excited about having a chance to win back-to-back South Central Association conference titles. Junior Riley Scheets, the Lady Tigers’ would-be first baseman, said she longs for the camaraderie of being around teammates.
“I miss going in the locker room before games, getting geared up, laughing and psyching ourselves up before we take the field,” Scheets said. “I miss Jason Pounds announcing our names with our walk up songs – of his choosing – blaring as we make it to home plate for our at bat. I miss competing and getting the opportunity to defend our crown as SCA champs, and I miss being yelled at by our coaches to help us correct our mistakes to make us the best of the best.
“Honestly, there is nothing I don’t miss about my softball family.”
And also similarly, the group of HHS boys who won a district tennis championship last year were all set to return to the court and try for more. One was senior Isaiah Buse, who was half of a conference champion doubles team last year and has earned a tennis scholarship from William Woods University in Fulton.
“I really just miss being able to compete,” Buse said. “I trust that God has a plan for my life and my fellow seniors’ lives. Although He may leave this mountain unmovable, He is always right here.”
And it’s not just kids who are being kept away from something they love because of the unprecedented coronavirus situation. It’s coaches, too.
“I really feel for our entire team that we’re not getting to play ball this spring,” HHS softball head coach Jim Moore said. “We had high expectations and goals set for our team. I especially feel empathy for our seniors. Both of them love the game of softball and both were really looking forward to having a huge senior year. Emma Bryant was unable to play her junior year due to an injury and she was excited to get to play her final year. Kameron Hall stole over 30 bases last season and had a personal goal to go after the state stolen base record this season.
“I miss coaching my team – watching them work hard and improve and watching them compete together,” he said. “I miss the competition, practice and big game atmospheres. And I believe we were going to get to play in several ‘big games’ this season.”
HHS tennis head coach Loran Richardson echoed the sentiment about the team’s elder players.
“I’m heartbroken for these seniors who won’t get to finish school and their season like they had planned,” Richardson said. “I know they were ready to defend their district title and take it even further this year, and I believe they had the capability to do that. My heart hurts for them that they can’t pursue their goals and enjoy their last season with their friends and teammates.
“It’s a tough way to end, but I’m confident these seniors will come out stronger in the end.”
Richardson hasn’t coached a spring sport before.
“I normally don’t coach a spring sport so I was excited to try something new with tennis,” she said. “I was enjoying getting to know these guys and I was really looking forward to seeing them compete.”
HHS baseball head coach Brent Hall has been at the helm of the Tiger program for 22 years.
“First and foremost, I hurt for my daughter Kameron,” Hall said. “She plays softball and is devastated by all this, and nobody can relate to an athlete’s pain right now any more than me in that regard.
“Baseball is a huge part of my life, and this time away from the game has reemphasized more than ever just how much I love and need the game. But I feel even worse for our kids, especially the seniors. Our baseball team as a whole are some of the most dedicated and passionate players in the area. They have worked so hard to be able to go out and perform and it breaks my heart for them and myself that we can’t go out and do what we enjoy together.”
Hall said he feels a bit disjointed under the circumstances.
“I’ve enjoyed my extra time with my family at home, but have missed time with my baseball family,” he said. “The combination of my family at home and my baseball family completes me, and there is no doubt a void right now and I know our players feel the same way.
“I’ve coached many years and turned many seniors away into the next phase of their life. These seniors have a special place in my heart. I tell kids all the time there is no better feeling than when you can truly give yourself to something bigger than yourself. These seniors have done that; they have given all of themselves to our program and to each other, and that’s not easy to do in the world we live in today.
“So for that and many other reasons, I’m indebted to them for the rest of my life.”