Signing days have always been special at Evangelical Christian School and at high schools throughout Southwest Florida.
ECS swimmer Caitlin Ross looked forward to the ceremonies immediately following chapel service. The seniors she looked up to signed National Letters of Intent announcing where they’d be continuing their athletic careers at the college level surrounded by friends and family.
She watched as their hard work paid off and hope she’d get there one day.
However, as she prepares to sign to swim at Division III Messiah College on Wednesday, the start of the NCAA spring signing period, there will be no roaring rounds of applause from her classmates and pictures taken with friends and family decked out in blue and white Falcons gear.
The worldwide coronavirus pandemic that has forced the country into isolation, students into virtual learning and the cancellation of proms and perhaps graduations now has Lee and Collier county student-athletes celebrating National Signing Day in quarantine.
Area schools are getting creative in the way they are giving college-bound athletes a proper sendoff, their just due for years of blood, sweat, and tears to get to this point. Meanwhile, Ross and others are putting the experience in the proper perspective.
"It's disappointing because I don't get the same experience, but, at the same time, I still get to swim in college," said Ross, a member of ECS’ 14th-place state finishing 200-yard individual medley relay team in the fall. "I don't feel like all my work is for nothing."
Ross searched long and hard for a smaller school that had a swim team and honors program that could put her on the pre-med track before finding her new home in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania.
As an athlete, Ross won’t deny any kind of recognition she receives is appreciated. But she didn’t decide to commit herself to four more years of the sport she loves solely for likes on Instagram.
"It's a good reminder that I didn't do all of this just to be recognized," Ross said. "It's something I want to continue. It's definitely made me question when I was going through this, was I only trying to swim in college for the recognition. I realized that's not why I wanted to swim. Was it a nice benefit? Yes. At the same time, this is such a small portion of it. I feel like my friends and family will still be able to support me throughout my four years at the college. It doesn't necessarily need to be in person right now.
“… If (recognition) is all I'm working for essentially after Signing Day it's over.”
Canterbury’s Patrick Horan agreed. The forward scored 157 goals for the Cougars and will head to Rollins College next year.
Canterbury’s annual end of the year signing celebration has been a point of pride at the school Horan has experienced many times.
"At the end of the day, I'm signing to go play a sport in college. It's what I've dreamed of for the last 10 years," Horan said. "The fact that I'm going and I found the right school, I'm happy about my decision and I can't wait. That's what I'm looking forward to."
Precautions taken to prevent the spread of the coronavirus has forced the country to adapt on many levels. Student-athletes are no different.
Seacrest Country Day senior defender Christian Fischer thought he’d have more time to evaluate his options with regard to where he’d be playing soccer next year. He had official visits scheduled before the NCAA shut down recruiting trips last month.
Yet Fischer was confident in choosing Division I Bellarmine University. In an ideal world, he would have loved to have a big ceremony. He has come to terms with a small ceremony at home, though.
"I wish I had a signing in front of a lot of people and stuff, but with the times I guess you have to adapt," Fischer said. "It's kind of what we have to do. It's how the last month has gone. It's how the next few weeks will be, who knows how long. It'll be my only Signing Day so it'll be interesting."
Fischer said his family is planning on hosting the signing on Facebook Live while Community School punter Blake Otto, will sign to play football at UConn, said CSN will host a Zoom meeting in the lecture hall so friends and family can attend virtually.
“Honestly, the virtual signing is bittersweet for me,” Otto said. “Of course I have been looking forward to a traditional signing and celebration with friends and teammates, but the Zoom signing will allow long-distance relatives, friends and more to join into the session from the comfort of their homes, who otherwise would not have been able to see the special day. It’s something I can look back on in the future and know that it was very different and unique from many other signings.”
Ida Baker also will host a Zoom meeting to celebrate the signings of at least seven Bulldogs athletes, athletic director Dan Butler said. Meanwhile, Fort Myers athletic director Steve Cato said he is still working out the details of how the Green Wave will honor their 10 or more signees.
ECS athletic director Scott Guttery asked Ross and fellow signees Sean Shore (Southeastern University basketball), Drew Tessier (Southeastern basketball), Erica Mills (University of Montevallo swimming) and Alexandra Hilton (Wheaton College softball) to film their signings just as they would be done at the school. Guttery will edit the videos into one that will be sent out on social media.
While Horan lamented people who were so instrumental in him earning a scholarship like club coach Bajro Dizdarevic of the Cape Coral Cyclones and Canterbury coach Mick Whitewood wouldn’t be able to attend his signing, he said there would be plenty of opportunities to show how grateful he is to them.
"I know they're all there supporting me from wherever they are and will continue supporting me for the next four years," Horan said.
As for how the rest of Horan’s circle can catch his signing, his family is still working on it.
"I'm going to sign the paper regardless," Horan added. "I guess maybe I'll throw a big party when this is all over."
Follow News-Press sports writer Adam Regan on Twitter: @NP_AdamRegan
Jabari Brown, a freshman at Dunbar High School, has been practicing hurdles in front of his home and hoping that his AAU track season won't be canceled like his first high school season. Brown is an AAU national hurdles champion. Fort Myers News-Press