These are the kinds of stories that are at once heartbreaking and, unfortunately, common all across the United States in the past several weeks.
High school senior athletes have been told their season is over.
Four years of grueling work on the practice floor, playing field, swimming pool, running track and tennis court have culminated not with a chance for accolades and college athletic scholarships, but with a “we’re closing now, good luck with all your future endeavors” message.
We get it. Closures were a necessary step for safety’s sake.
As of this writing, the coronavirus pandemic is still ravaging our nation’s countryside, killing more than 37,000 people and infecting more than 712,000 people. All but seven states are in a lockdown of one form or another, banning large gatherings and urging residents to be vigilant about avoiding large numbers of people and staying 6 feet away from their neighbors.
Understandable, yes. But for the high school senior athlete, it was a crushing blow. Gone are the tournaments, the chance to impress college recruiters, another chance to land a college scholarship that could pave the way for a better life. They — and their families — are left with the question: “What do we do now?”
Of course, there is a glimmer of hope as the weather turns warmer and as states battle to gain the upper hand against a fast-spreading virus. There are signs that states — like Tennessee — might be able to weather this current storm and resume some sense of normalcy by the summer.
And with the heat of summer, there may be plenty of opportunities for our student athletes to shine in various summer leagues and camps — attracting the eyes of college recruiters.
But the summer scenario is only a best-case option. If the virus isn’t contained by then, we could be looking at a long, gloomy summer. We desperately hope that doesn’t happen, but prudence advises us to prepare for the worst.
A lot of our attention and activity — rightly so — has been focused on making sure the current crisis doesn’t destroy our nation’s economy and making sure our residents remain as safe as possible.
But as we navigate our way through this messy, chaotic and dangerous road, we also might want to focus a little of our attention on helping those senior athletes to make sure that their years of hard work and dedication aren’t lost forever.
What those remedies would be, we’re not entirely sure. It could be that TSSAA could devise a coronavirus-specific program where high school senior athletes would be able to retain one year of eligibility. Guidelines could be established about which athlete would be covered. We could imagine that the rules would apply to those senior athletes in spring or summer sports who were part of a starting rotation or had competed in a certain number of games or meets before the season was canceled.
We’re not endorsing a specific program. We’re not even sure what such a program would look like. But what we are endorsing is that we should begin thinking of ways to help these athletes salvage a lost year.
High school sports have a definite place in the hearts and minds of most of us here in Tennessee and, we’d wager, the vast majority of the American people. Most of us can remember what it was like to be part of a team — whether it was the athlete on the floor or a fan in the stands.
We owe it to them to do what we can to say “thank you” and to help them, as much as we can, find some kind of future after this crisis passes.