E.A. Sports Today

Schools return, sports done

Governor orders schools to re-open April 6 with remote learning for the rest of the school year, effectively ending the spring sports season

By Al Muskewitz
East Alabama Sports Today
Students across the state will resume their classwork April 6, but classrooms will remain empty after Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey 
today ordered schools to provide instruction remotely for the remainder of the school year.

White Plains golfer Cam McElreeth (R) is greeted by assistant coach Justin Mallicoat after winning the 2017 Calhoun County High School Tournament. Scenes like this will not be repeated this year as the state’s decision to resume classes remotely April 6 effectively ended the spring sports season. (Submitted photo)

State schools superintendent Dr. Eric Mackey joined Gov. Ivey and Alabama State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris at Thursday’s announcement and confirmed the decision “means the end for this school year” for athletics and other extra-curricular activities.

The Alabama High School Association said it would be making a statement Friday morning after executive director Steve Savarese meets with the organization’s Central Board of Control.
In addressing the state’s response to the COVID-19 coronavirus, Ivey stopped short of issuing a shelter-in-place order for the state.
The end of the school year now is June 5.

Two weeks ago, the governor ordered public schools to close for 2½ weeks beginning March 18 to mitigate the spread of the virus. April 6 was the tentative date to return, but the aggressive spread of the virus throughout the state and country led to Thursday’s action. Earlier in the day Georgia extended its shutdown of schools and sports through at least April 24.
The disruption put the high school spring sports season on hold included the cancelation of the four remaining Calhoun County Tournament events. The AHSAA spring sports contingency committee met last week to discuss ways to provide a return to play “as quickly and safely as possible” and salvage the spring sports championships even if it requires revising the qualifying requirements. On Monday the governing body announced a delay on its announcement of the new spring sports reclassification.
Mackey’s statement Thursday rendered continued plans for games moot.
“Unfortunately for sports, for band and those things, it means the end for this school year,” Mackey said, anticipating the question. “We will be declaring the end of this school year as June 5 … Many of them may finish before June 5, but we want all the schools to wrap up this school year by June 5. That essentially means that, unfortunately, soccer, baseball, softball, track, band, all those spring activities, are coming to an end; they won’t be able to complete their seasons.
“I truly am sorry and I know the Governor is sorry and I know Dr. Harris is that students are losing so many of the fun activities of their senior year that they really count on, but we just have to do what is the most important and pressing thing and that’s protecting the health and safety of our community.”

Coaches around the state understand the gravity of the situation, but that didn’t prevent them from expressing disappointment, especially for their senior players, for the premature end to the season. 

“If I could, I would give anything to speak to these Ohatchee High School seniors one more time,” said Indians baseball coach Blake Jennings, who wrote an eloquent Facebook post after the original shutdown. “I’d love to tell them I know they are hurting right now and that it’ll all be a distant memory as they begin to become adults.

“I hope and pray that we can see these kids walk across a state in June just so they can see a finality to this madness … I would like to tell them that I know it doesn’t seem fair, but this is just another lesson we have to learn from to help us become better people.”

Jennings said the Indians would have a Senior Night for this year’s six seniors on Opening Day 2021 where they all will throw out the ceremonial first pitch.

The sports shutdown is a particular bitter pill for the season’s most successful teams, those that were undefeated, maybe ranked No. 1 in the state in their sport and on a track to potentially win a state championship. 
The Piedmont baseball team filled all those bills. The Bulldogs had just won their first Calhoun County baseball title before the initial shutdown, were 15-0 and on the verge of clinching their area with the best hitting lineup 1-through-9 in coach Matt Deerman’s tenure and a deep pitching staff, were No. 1 in two major rankings in Class 3A and were entertaining some serious dreams of winning their first state title.
Deerman wouldn’t go so far as to say they would have won the title had the season played out because anything could happen on the field. Class 3A North was as strong as he’s ever seen it and South power Gordo had several players still around from the 2017 team that beat the Bulldogs in the finals, but “I feel like we had as good a chance as anybody, but you’ll never know; that’s what’s so hard to swallow.”
It is uncertain if (or how) the AHSAA will crown state champions in the sport.
“We did everything we could possibly do to prove we deserve to be the best team in the state,” he said, the words catching in his throat. “… The toughest thing to swallow is the fact they had no idea that game against Saks was the last time they’d ever step on the field. When that’s the case and you have no idea that’s gonna be it, it sort of makes it tough, especially for a senior.
“You’ve got five kids who’ll never get the opportunity to see it through. I feel sorry for the juniors and the sophomores and freshmen who were part of the team, but you hurt the most for the kids you know who put so much time and effort into things and then all of a sudden it’s just taken away from them and they had no idea it was even coming. 
“For a kid who’s 16 to 18 years old they don’t really understand it. It’s like their world is ended. As their coach and a guy who loves these kids it’s hard to swallow the pain they’re going through. They don’t get their opportunity that they deserve. That’s goes for every team, not just for Piedmont, that’s everybody.”

The shutdown may cause a premature end to some coaching tenures. Justin Mallicoat, an assistant coach in White Plains’ golf and basketball programs, lamented he may have coached his last event in nine years with the Wildcats.
The Calhoun County Schools system is adopting a policy in the 2020-21 school year in which hourly employees would be prohibited from coaching sports. Mallicoat has been coaching as an hourly employee in the physical education unit. He is expected to earn his teaching certification before the next school year begins that would satisfy the requirement to coach, but if there’s not a teaching position in his certification available he would be off the sidelines although he could remain an hourly employee.
“It’s bittersweet,” he said, thinking fondly of the nearly dozen WP golfers who’ve gone on to play at the college level. “All I can think about ever since we left (on March 18) was the past nine years. I’ve been an assistant where we lost a player and there have been other obstacles we’ve gone through but there was always something consistent and that was the kids. Their work ethic, that’s all I can think about.
“If I never coach another day in my life I’m going to be thankful for every kid who not only impacted my life but maybe I impacted theirs. You can look at the state championship rings we’ve won, but at the end of the day it’s about developing relationships with the kids and having relationships with their families. It’s always been about the kids”

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