Sports take a back seat

Rivet's St. Vincent's Field is empty on what was supposed to be the first day of baseball practice Monday. Area schools announced last week that they'd be out of session for at least the next three weeks due to the spread of COVID-19, and teams won't be allowed to practice or compete as long as schools are closed. When and if high school baseball, softball, track and field, boys golf and girls tennis resume are questions unanswered.

The threat of the spreading coronavirus, or COVID-19, is bringing nearly everything in the United States to a standstill. It most notably started with the postponement of the NBA season last Wednesday, and almost all large gatherings over the next month, even outside of sports, have already been cancelled or postponed.

High school sports haven't been spared either. While the IHSAA hasn't officially cancelled anything yet, local schools are closing for the foreseeable future, and along with that, schools have put a halt to their athletic programs.

Track and field teams have been allowed to practice for about a month now, and softball practices started last week. But baseball, girls tennis and boys golf were slated to begin practice Monday. Currently, local schools are closed through April 3, it was announced Friday, with school resuming April 6. With the IHSAA's mandated number of practices required, the target date for games to resume is April 20.

But the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended Sunday that gatherings of over 50 people should be avoided for at least eight weeks, and high school coaches in the area know that the April 20 goal is a best-case scenario.

“We had a full week of practice. We had our kickoff dinner. It was too wet to get outside, but we had good practices in the gym and we were getting pretty excited,” said Lincoln softball coach Chaz Hendrix, whose team had high hopes returning nearly every starter from a 15-10 team a season ago. “We met with the girls (Friday) and told them we can't officially get together at the field or facility, but I urged them to get swings in on their own, and for pitchers and catchers to get together if possible. We want them to come back in shape.

“It's tough. We've waited through volleyball and basketball, and you get to a point in the winter where you're done with it and ready to get the season going. Everyone's getting excited, and then the rug gets swept out from under your feet. Hopefully we're back April 6, but we're not holding our breath.”

Another wrinkle in spring sports is that the IHSAA has yet to make a ruling about the conclusion of the boys basketball tournament, which had regionals postponed Saturday. South Knox baseball coach Mike Bezy, who's also a basketball official, echoed the uncertainty.

“I worked a sectional last Saturday (March 7), and it seems like two months ago,” Bezy said. “Are they going to ax the basketball tournament? Or will they play it before we can play baseball? There's just a lot to consider.

“To say the least, the boys are disappointed. We've been working out, doing the things the IHSAA allows you to do this time of year. We encouraged them to keep working in their private time. They know the routine and things they need to work on. But these are unprecedented times, and safety is the top priority. That's kind of the message we gave them.”

Bezy added that he made it clear to players that they aren't allowed to participate in workouts with summer/travel teams, which could affect their IHSAA eligibility.

The Spartans coach speculated that a dozen or so regular-season games should be enough to prepare a team for the tournament.

Beginning with girls track on May 19, sectionals begin in every sport but boys golf over the following weeks. Track and girls tennis state finals are the first weekend in June, with the other state championships to be contested between June 12-20.

Hendrix didn't foresee the state finals being rescheduled, but he noted that softball is a sport where a full tournament can be done in about two weeks.

“You'd have to get basketball coaches on board to move the tournament, because they do a lot of (offseason) team camp stuff in June. I think they'll stick with the original dates, maybe push it back a week,” he said. “We play our regional in the middle of the week, so you could do a sectional, regional and semistate in two weekends, playing doubleheaders. It's not ideal, but it can be done.”

But sports are a secondary concern at this point.

“The most important thing is to keep the kids healthy,” Bezy said. “We want to get them back in school. There are seniors that plan on graduating, and that's more important than anything else right now.”

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