When Brandon Altman found out his senior season with Winfield High School’s baseball team could be wiped out due to the COVID-19 outbreak, devastation was only one of the emotions he felt rushing through him.
“I felt heartbroken,” he said. “I have played the game of baseball since I was five years old. Every year, that is what I looked forward to.”
Altman is far from alone. Many students playing high school sports aren’t moving on to play collegiately – and beyond. Their journeys end after graduation.
For these students, true love for the game is what gets them going, and their senior seasons represent one final shot at glory, whether it be a winning season, a postseason berth, a deep playoff run or even the ultimate prize – a state championship.
“It’s pretty hard knowing that this could be it, especially for me not going to college and playing sports there,” said Corey Juergensmeyer, a senior baseball player at Troy Buchanan High School. Both Juergensmeyer and Altman have memories from their high school careers and teams they will remember long after graduation.
“I will always remember the funny memories when they would make me laugh, also the times when they welcomed me back after my injury,” Juergensmeyer said.
“[I’ll remember] literally everything. We all had so much fun together,” Altman said. “At practice, we never argued, because we always gave 100 percent, no matter what, even if the practice was inside – and we were inside hitting for an hour.”
Athletic directors from the college level to the high school level have had to make tough decisions to combat the novel coronavirus in the name of public safety.
Canceling the NCAA Basketball Tournament was one of those decisions, as well as all of its spring sports.
Many of those decisions have filtered into prep sports in many states, leaving disappointed student-athletes whose final seasons have been suddenly voided.
“It breaks my heart that our athletes haven’t gotten a chance to compete this spring, and our fans and parents haven’t gotten a chance to see them play maybe just one last time,” said Robert James, Winfield athletic director. “We also understand that we have to do our part to keep everyone safe, and that lots of athletes and students have made a great sacrifice for the greater good for our country.” “It’s really heartbreaking for all of our athletes,” Troy Buchanan High School Athletic Director Jason Smith said. “Whether they are freshmen, seniors, playing at the college level or calling it quits after this year, they are all missing out on opportunities to play the sport they love with their friends: opportunities to learn, grow, and make lasting memories.
“We are still holding out hope that we can get back in May and play a few games this spring.”
Smith and James each shared messages to those seniors whose prep careers could end prematurely due to COVID-19, while still holding out hope they will still get to play a truncated schedule.
“I’d just like to tell them that we all feel their pain and hope we can get some good news soon,” Smith said. “I’d also tell them to keep training, keep posting their videos on Twitter, keep practicing social distancing and that I hope I see them all soon.”
“I would like to say to our seniors that it has been a pleasure being your AD these past four years,” James said. “You are an amazing class in the classroom and on the playing surface. You have represented Winfield at the highest level.
“I hope I get to see you compete sometime this spring, but if not, I have plenty of great memories of you – and look forward to speaking to you soon. [I’ve got] lots of love for the Class of 2020.”
Altman plans on going to a technical college after graduation to earn a certification for a career in HVAC, but still wants to stay in the game of baseball as much as he can.
Juergensmeyer plans to attend college at Missouri State to double major in business and sports management, but baseball will never be far from his mind as well.
“I’ve always wanted to join an intramural league, but with what I’m studying with sports management, this will keep me close to the sports I love,” Juergensmeyer said.