As flu season comes to an end and allergy season starts to heat up, there may be concerns about symptoms that mimic the new coronavirus COVID-19. Wochit
As the NBA and NHL suspended their seasons, the MLB canceled the remainder of spring training and delayed the start of its season followed by the NCAA canceling March Madness due to fears of spreading the coronavirus, Dunbar High School track and field coach Guy Thomas knew what was coming next.
High school athletics.
There’s a trickle-down effect at work, he said.
By the conclusion of one of the tougher weeks of his life, Thomas watched the AAU National Indoor Track and Field Championships six of his Olympia Track Club athletes qualified for be canceled and then the Lee County School District suspended high school meets for the foreseeable future, putting the season in jeopardy and possibly ending his seniors’ prep careers.
The fear Thomas was living soon extended to the entire high school sports community in Southwest Florida on Friday as Gov. Ron DeSantis ordered the closing of schools in the state for two weeks inclusive of their spring break starting Monday.
While Lee County schools, which are on spring break next week, will be out two weeks Collier County, which had spring break last week, plans to return to session March 23. During that time no athletic contests or practices will be held due to the global pandemic that has ground the sports world to a halt.
“As a citizen, health always comes first,” Thomas said. “But as a sports person, from a track coach’s perspective, it’s just like wow.”
Thomas understands the threat that’s facing the country where the Florida Department of Health has confirmed 70 positive cases of coronavirus in the state through Friday, including four in Lee County and three in Collier County.
He trusts in the guidelines put forth by the Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention and DeSantis recommending the postponement or cancellation of mass gatherings, which include track meets that draw dozens of athletes from multiple schools as well as hundreds of spectators.
But what were Thomas and other coaches supposed to tell seniors like Dunbar’s Caleb Snowden, who was relishing the opportunity to defend his state championship in the high jump, or sprinter Jarvis Jones, who believes the title of Fastest Man in Florida belongs to him and wants to prove it?
The Florida High School Athletic Association thus far has left the cancellation of athletic events up to individual school districts and hasn’t canceled any of its state series events, including track and field slated to be held May 13-16 at the University of Florida.
Thomas still hopes that track season will resume. However, he’s realistic. Knowing the NCAA canceled all spring championships, he asked what the chances were of UF hosting a high school meet?
“Right now, we’re in shock, but there is still a shot,” Thomas said.
South Fort Myers athletic director Chris Harris also remains hopeful his athletes will get back on the field of play at some point this spring.
Like Thomas, he realizes he owes it to the athletes to be realistic. And that means stressing the importance of using time away from the field to put extra focus on academics and pushing toward their futures whether it be attending college or fine-tuning a trade skillset to enter the workforce.
“It’s almost like having a major injury like an ACL tear,” Harris said. “You have to have a Plan B. We need to take things day-by-day and be the best we can each day with what we’re given that day.
“We don’t know what the future holds. We need to trust in the CDC and the Department of Health.”
While track and field athletes spent Thursday and Friday processing the possible loss of their seasons, baseball and softball players in Lee and Collier saw games canceled abruptly after DeSantis’ announcement.
In what may have been one of the final high school events to be contested before schools went into a standstill, Bishop Verot and Seacrest Country Day were set to play a softball game at 6 p.m.
As the home Vikings took the field, the umpires called both head coaches and informed them that the game would be canceled with word from the Diocese of Venice that all activities involving Catholic schools in Southwest Florida are suspended indefinitely.
The ripple effect across the sports landscape is something that Vikings head coach Rick Hendrix thought about even before his team was to compete Friday night. The reality of games and potentially the season not resuming at all with all of the uncertainty crossed his mind.
“I feel terrible for the seniors here, they had a senior night to play that is in jeopardy now,” Hendrix said. “Our seniors aren’t unique; every schools got their seniors dealing with the same situation. We have graduates of Verot that I’d been seeing all day post that they could lose their senior season because their college seasons are being shut down.”
Seacrest Country Day coach and former Naples High and University of Alabama star pitcher Jackie Traina is hopeful that for her Stingrays team will keep progressing through their season. In the midst of everything transpiring across the country, she sympathized with what has already happened to college seniors possibly having played in their last games with the end coming due to circumstances out of their hands.
“It could be a very tough situation for our seniors. Who wants to cut their season short when it’s just getting started?” Traina said. “There’s really nothing we can do except keep a positive attitude to the girls. I never thought that something like this would be a reason why a season ends in high school and in college, but it’s something that’s completely out of your control.”
Seacrest coach and former Philadelphia Phillies first baseman John Kruk was disappointed as well by the game’s cancelation but put things in perspective.
“It’s all about safety and we don’t know enough about what might happen,” Kruk said. “I’ve been getting updates from the MLB and from the FHSAA and it’s been tough to keep track of everything. There’s not much you can do about it, safety for all needs to be the primary concern.”
—The News-Press sports writer Bryan Cooney contributed to this report.