Spring athletes hoping to play a partial season; seniors facing reality of missing their last high school season
FITCHBURG — The spring athlete typically has to battle adversity in the form of Mother Nature.
But this spring, Mother Nature isn’t the major issue.
The outbreak of the Coronarvirus disease or COVID-19 has wreaked havoc on the entire country, closing schools until at least May 4 in Massachusetts, along with businesses temporarily during this state of emergency, while leaving spring sports at all levels in shutdown mode as well.
For the average high school student, the news of school closures along with no spring sports is an absolute nightmare scenario.
“Obviously, the COVID-19 pandemic has negatively impacted the end of my senior year both athletically and academically,” said FHS senior outfielder and Honors Academy student Devin LeBlanc. “I will now have to find a way to enrich my education from home with minimal communication to advisors, where I would normally be preparing for AP exams in a classroom setting before I head off to college. Also, this pandemic has pushed back the baseball season, and could possibly end it as a whole. This would be devastating to our entire team and seniors during our last year.”
Fitchburg High senior catcher and Honors Academy student Sammy Robichaud says this pandemic has struck out his senior season.
“This is something I cannot and will not get back,” Robichaud said. “I’ve been looking forward to this year since the first time I ever picked up a baseball. As for graduation goes, personally I am a little upset but I know at one point or another I will receive my diploma and graduate high school, it just may not be during a fancy ceremony.”
Fitchburg High varsity baseball coach Ray Cosenza says this is a very tough situation for everyone and hopes his players will eventually be back playing baseball this spring.
“My heart goes out to all athletes that are effected by COVID-19, but especially the seniors,” Cosenza said. “I hope, for their sake, that part of the season will be allowed. Having said that, I realize the seriousness of this virus, and understand that the health and well being of everyone has to come before the spring season being reinstated.”
Fitchburg first-year athletic director and varsity softball coach, Craig Antocci, certainly feels for all his spring student-athletes and know how important athletics are to these student-athletes and coaches.
“As an athletic director I oversee what many consider to be extra-curricular activities,” Antocci said. “What this lockdown has done is cast a light on the fact that for so many of our students, athletics and other like pursuits in other domains are not extra-curricular activities, but rather co-curricular activities that help bind the fabric of the school community.”
According to a recent press release by the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association, the status of the spring sports season will be addressed by the Board of Directors on a March 30 conference call. The Tournament Management Committee’s recommendation to the Board was that if the spring season start date was after April 27, there wouldn’t be an MIAA tournament. The recommendation – perhaps a shortened numbered of regular season games only – and a plan to save a spring season will be discussed at this March 30 meeting.
“The best-case scenario would be to start the season in the second week of May and play 8-12 games with no MIAA playoffs,” Antocci. “The worst case is not something that anyone wants to think about at the moment.”
Seniors, however, are desperate to play their final season this spring, regardless of how many or how few games there are, or even if there’s a postseason or not.
These are times in life – playing with your friends and playing for your hometown, community and school – you can’t get back. This is an important piece to the overall high school experience.
“I want to return to school and baseball very badly, as do many of my peers,” LeBlanc said. “Our time in high school is something that we can never get back, and many memories could be made around the time of graduation. Before I leave high school for good, I would love to see my friends and serve my final year playing the sport I love.”
Added Robichaud: “I just want to be able to put that uniform on and represent the Red and Gray one more time. I want to leave my mark on Fitchburg High School. I want to play those games as if every single one is my last because they will be… at least for the Red and Gray.
“I want to play those 12 games with the kids I have been building bonds with for the past four years. With the whole playoff situation, I am not mad about that. Don't get me wrong, I would love to play in the playoffs once again, but I do understand that there are things that I cannot control. The COVID-19 crisis is something I cannot control, so if it takes away ⅓ of my season and the playoffs then so be it, but give me my last 12 games with my brothers.”
If there’s no baseball, Robichaud says he’ll be crushed.
“If I never get to play my senior year of baseball, it will eat away at me for the rest of my life,” he said. “Taking my junior year for granted, not knowing that that would be my last season. Personally, I have not met the goals and expectations I set for myself, and never getting the opportunity to meet those goals and expectations is something that won’t be OK with me for a long time. If I don't get to play my senior year, I will be devastated.”
LeBlanc admits that he’s worried the Coronavirus will end the school year and the baseball season.
“Based off of the way things have been going, not everybody is taking the right precautions and I believe that events will likely continue being pushed back,” said LeBlanc, adding there have been some positives during the quarantine, which include having extended family time.
But for the time being, athletes from all over the country are left in off-season mode but stuck at home, trying to train – lifting weights, throwing, running, hitting – to stay ready if and when school is officially back in session and sports teams get clearance to officially start practicing for the spring.
“I have recently been so bored at home that I started running a couple miles a day,” said Robichaud. “And luckily for me, I have a set of weights and I go through a full workout routine at least three times a week. Academically, I have been keeping up with my online classes, and doing some work here and there.”
The burning desire to get better, both academically and athletically, is still there for FHS junior infield Zach Scott.
“What is driving me to stay up on my studies and preparing for baseball during this time is to be prepared the best I can for the season when it starts and for when I return back to school,” said Scott. “I am also preparing for the summer season when I play with my club team.”
Sports provide so many positive outcomes to today’s youth, says Cosenza.
“Along with improving their physical well-being, it also plays a big part in their emotional well-being, self confidence, leadership and commutation skills,” he said. “My message to our players is simply this. We can’t stress about things out of our control. What we can control is how we react to it. So stay positive, stay as active as possible, take care of yourself and your family, and we will get through this adversity.”
Antocci says that things happen to us for reasons that we don't fully understand.
“We are living in historic times, and the series of events that are continuing to unfold will be imprinted on each of us for the rest of our lives,” he said. “May we all be reminded to never take a rep for granted, never take a play for granted, and always give your best effort because you never know when it will all be taken away from you.”
(By Fitchburg Public Schools Communication Coordinator, Chad Garner)