Senior Student-Athletes Cope With Loss Of Sports And School Due To Coronavirus Outbreak

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Everyone shares the same hopes: some day in the not-too-distant future, the world will emerge from the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and return to some semblance of normalcy.

Of course, there won’t be any way to make up for lost time.

This is especially true for Anne Arundel County’s high school senior student-athletes, who, since school was suspended on March 13, have been missing out on a once-in-a-lifetime experience: the chance to enjoy playing spring sports as they close a major chapter in their lives.

“For seniors, it’s just devastating,” said Severna Park softball coach Meredith McAlister. “It’s the end of everything they’ve worked for.”

At Severna Park High School, senior athletes on the softball, baseball, lacrosse, track and field, tennis and bocce teams are faced with the uncertainty that their seasons will take place at all. While the epidemic is wreaking havoc in many ways worse than disruptions to school, as the coronavirus has claimed thousands of lives and continues to threaten health and livelihoods around the globe, the sudden evaporation of sports has nonetheless caused real heartbreak, too.

“I was in shock and couldn’t believe it was true,” said Emily Wilson, the catcher for the Falcons’ softball team. “Then when I saw the season was postponed again (until April 24), my heart dropped. I thought, ‘It’s my senior year, and we haven’t even played a game yet.’”

Two of Wilson’s teammates, co-captains Kerri Kazmarek (pitcher) and Abbie Iaquinta (first base), have patiently waited their turns to fill starting roles and were finally set to seize their opportunities this season.

“That is where most of the sadness is coming from,” said Iaquinta. “I worked really hard in the offseason to get better and perfect my hitting and solidify my skills at first so I could be a starter, and now that it’s taken away from me it just feels unfair. But I know I’m not the only one in this situation, and that’s what I have to keep reminding myself, we’re all in this together.”

Coaches and parents have coped by posting old pictures on social media, celebrating memories of athletic triumphs to fill the current void. Student-athletes, meanwhile, are holding onto hopes that games can still be played after April 24, and they’re preparing to play as soon as possible.

McAlister loaded a shared folder online where the softball players can access individual workout plans. The lacrosse players are doing solo stick work against brick walls at home. The baseball players are hitting balls off tees into nets in their backyards and basements. The distance runners on the track and field team, who normally are often seen running through the neighborhood in closely huddled clusters, have done their training runs alone, or in a few cases in small groups separated by six feet or more to abide by social distancing guidelines.

Teammates are staying in touch in group text threads, sharing workouts and trying to keep bonds strong.

“My teammates and I are still training and playing like we will have an abbreviated schedule when we get back,” said Julia Putzi, one of six seniors on the girls lacrosse team. “It is really stressful to not know if we will play again, but no news is still better than the possible bad news. The hardest part is not being able to play with, or even see, my teammates. We had a lot of potential for the season and we were very excited to be able to start playing games.”

The goals for all the teams remain in place.

“Trying for state championship would be amazing,” said Wesley Adams, a senior pitcher for the Severna Park baseball team. “It’s what I’ve always dreamed of as a high school baseball player. I’m hoping we go back and can play.”

The disappointment isn’t limited just to senior spring athletes. No athletes in Anne Arundel County were more heartbroken by cancellations than the Northeast boys basketball players, who were in the midst of the finest season in program history. On March 12, less than 24 hours after the National Basketball Association suspended its season and the day the dominoes started falling around the country, the Eagles were enjoying a spirited sendoff from the school and Pasadena community and were moments away from boarding a bus to the University of Maryland to play in the Class 3A state semifinals at Xfinity Center when word came down that the game was cancelled.

Then there are the underclassmen. Sophomores and juniors with hopes of impressing college coaches with their play this spring or laying the groundwork for enlarged roles as next year will just have to wait.

For the senior student-athletes, sports are just one aspect of a special time in life that can’t be postponed.

“I think that’s just as bad as losing the sports,” said Casey Fox, one of 13 seniors on the Severna Park boys lacrosse team. “You lose what you have left. It’s our childhood, 18 years of making friendships with everyone, and then it kind of just crushed the last two months when it all comes together, graduation, prom, final sports seasons, the summer, that kind of stuff. It’s kind of heartbreaking to see what it’s come to.”

Even in the current situation, many of the seniors expressed gratitude, appreciating what remains instead of fixating on what is lost.

“I have learned a lot, seeing what’s going on in other places,” said Fox. “There’s people who have it worse. We have a nice house to live in, I have brothers to hang out with, my parents are here for me. We’re missing school and sports, but there’s people who can’t pay rent, who are out of a job, who are going hungry because they’re not able to work. I’m glad for what I have, but this is hurting everyone.”

For Putzi and others, one of the final lessons of high school is a lesson for life.

“I have learned that you can’t take anything for granted and to appreciate the time you have, because nothing is guaranteed,” said Putzi. “I wouldn’t have changed anything in the past four years. I’ve been honored to be a member of the girls lacrosse program at Severna Park.”

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