Pandemic suspension leaves future uncertain for spring sports

Updated: March 13, 2020

After a chaotic 48-hour span where breaking news about the coronavirus pandemic seemingly burst across Twitter feeds and smart phones every ten minutes, there are two things for certain in regards to local sports.

One is that after Friday night, there won’t be any games contested in Orange County until Monday, April 6, at the earliest.

The other is that this is the weirdest time to be involved in sports, at any level, in modern history.

Even after 9/11 in 2001, there were football games played across the Triangle only three days later.

The Corona virus pandemic, on the other hand, has led to Orange County Schools calling off class starting on March 16 all the way through April 6.

On Thursday afternoon, the North Carolina High School Athletic Association barred teams from holding organized workouts, practices or skill development for the next three weeks. At the end of the school day, Orange Baseball Coach Jason Knapp and Cedar Ridge Baseball Coach Bryson Massey delivered final instructions to their players on how to stay in shape during their off time for the next three weeks until the season starts again.

But will it resume? If it does, what will the schedule look like? Will there be only conference games? Or will the Hilltop Invitational, scheduled to return this Easter after a year off, be contested when the students return? Will there be a state playoff? If so, will it be a 64-team field? Will the NCHSAA just cancel the season outright, like the NCAA essentially did on Thursday?

Absolutely no one knows.

That’s why Knapp described Thursday’s meeting with his team as gut wrenching. No one wants to think this would be the end for Orange seniors Joey Berini, Tucker Miller, Cooper Hench, Ethan Guentensberger, Dayne Watkins and Nathan Horton.

Certainly the thought of Cedar Ridge seniors Fransisco Martinez, Grant Fox, Chris Pearce and Cameron Hartley ending their senior year prematurely isn’t any easier.

Yet as images appeared on Twitter timelines of college baseball and softball teams from around the country gathering to mourn the abrupt ends to their seasons Thursday, there were an air of finality in the meeting rooms that was unescapable.

Could this be the end?

No one knows.

“I feel like someone has kicked me in the gut and ripped my heart out,” Knapp tweeted after the team meeting.

Knapp acknowledged he wasn’t surprised when the NCHSAA suspended the spring season. He had been in a series of texting chains with other Big 8 Conference coaches and athletic officials about contingency plans since late Wednesday.

“We had a feeling after the NBA did what it did on Wednesday night that things were going to go this way,” Knapp said from his home Thursday. “We haven’t had any specific plans. What’s probably going to happen is the athletic directors are going to get together and see what they come up with as far as a conference schedule. That would be my guess.”

Cedar Ridge was supposed to face Northwood on Friday night in Hillsborough. It was postponed.

“It’s tough to meet with your team in a situation like that when they’ve worked really hard,” Massey said. “They’ve been all-in from day one. Now we don’t know when we’re going to get back on the field. I saw a lot of faces that were upset and unhappy. They asked why. But this is a teaching moment. You have to accept it.”

Orange was also slated to travel to the Wilson Tobs Classic against Wilson Hunt on March 21, which will be postponed. Knapp talked with the director of the Tobbs Classic, Mike Wilson, but didn’t come up with any concrete changes.

“He called me today and we kicked around a few ideas,” Knapp said. “I think we’re all in wait-and-see mode right now.”

The uncharted territory is hard enough for a veteran coach. Massey is in his first year at Cedar Ridge.

“It’s really different,” Massey said. “I talked to some coaching buddies today. It’s not what you expect in your first year of coaching. I guess you get thrown to the fire and your learn. It can’t get any worse. You figure it out and you get through it.”

As for the absence of practices, Knapp and Massey hope the players will show individual responsibility.

“I put that on the kids,” Knapp said. “Hopefully, if things go as scheduled, will get back after it after April 6. I told them they’re going to have to hit the ground running. My pitching coach, Matt Roberts, told them about pitching drills that they can do on their own. We have some great senior leadership and asked them to reach out to the team and make sure they’re doing their part.”

Something that Massey knows for sure is that just because there aren’t any games doesn’t mean he won’t stop being a baseball coach.

“I’ll still spend these three weeks taking care of my field,” Massey said. “Even if I don’t have practices, I can always do that. The field is always there for you regardless of what’s going on across the world.”

That will help pass the time, but now there is lots and lots of waiting.

And the waiting, indeed, will be the hardest part.

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