I’ve been braced for today’s announcement that, with schools officially remaining closed for the rest of this school year, the high school spring sports season was canceled.
I’ve expected it for almost two months, not long after the sudden ending to the winter season and the estimates from the science community how the pandemic would play out in the near future.
So I was properly cushioned for closure. Or so I thought. I’ve been interviewing senior athletes since the start of the quarantine. When asked if they were prepared for what seemed inevitable, not one said yes. They all were clutching to any hope, that maybe we would all wake up tomorrow from what has seemed like a nightmare.
So the last nail today, when the CIAC followed in lockstep with Gov. Ned Lamont, saddened me more than I thought. Not that there would be no games for me to cover, but how all the athletes I have spoken to and their classmates had to be feeling.
“In the back of your mind there was a little bit of hope but now it is completely finalized,” said Sophie Sudano, a returning All-FCIAC player whose goal and assist totals for her senior year with Wilton’s girls lacrosse teams will now have asterisks. “It’s just upsetting. There’s nothing anybody can do.”
It has been a feeling of helplessness for all spring athletes, but in particular the Class of 2020. No chance to win starting positions they had been waiting years to earn. No chance to defend championships. No chance to play rivals one last time, no Senior Nights, no final shared moments in the locker room.
Not even one last practice.
“I assumed a while ago when they took us out of school we weren’t going to have a season but now it really hurts and was very sad to hear,” said Matt DeLuca, another returning All-FCIAC player who was set for one last go as the ace of the Ridgefield baseball team’s pitching staff.
If you get teary eyed stay off Instagram today. Seniors are thanking their teammates for three great years. It should be four. And the posts, at the earliest, should have been made at the end of this month, not May 5.
The Darien boys lacrosse team has been one of the elite FCIAC programs. It has long had national exposure and was ranked in the Top 10 in the preseason polls.
“What we were looking at was a modified June season, which didn’t have any realistic approach to it in my opinion, but I know what we were trying to do was to give all the student athletes a chance to do something for the month of June and close out the school year,” said Jeff Brameier, the Blue Wave’s coach. “Realistically this is what we all expected. You are sitting there disappointed, frustrated and heartbroken, but not just for myself but more importantly for the team itself and the 2020 group that will never get a chance to get this back.”
The Blue Wave in many respects is not just battling the New Canaans, Wiltons, Ridgefields and Greenwichs, not to mention regional powers. They are one of the few programs that also gets to chase after their tails.
“You have a tradition of excellence, you have a tradition of being in the top of the rankings in the state and the country, but this team was primed and positioned to challenge our four undefeated teams and all the top teams in the history of our program,” Brameier said. “When they don’t get a chance to do that it leaves a hole and one that you can’t fill. That’s what’s frustrating. The seniors will lose their opportunity, will lose the opportunity of having lifetime memories that they can’t get back. The program loses record-setters, All-Americans, All-State players, All-County players. You can’t fill in the blanks.”
There are players on teams that had little chance of earning playoff spots, and their final seasons were no less important. For them, wins and losses may have been secondary to the fun practicing and competing with friends. Their ‘What ifs” are equally consequential.
Today there is such despair. How many parents would pay, how many coaches would donate their salaries to charity, how many athletes would make a sacrifice for that magical Field of Dreams where games could be played?
“I’m going to keep grinding and put in the work and get ready for the summer season and my first year of college ball,” said DeLuca, who will play next year at Quinnipiac.
But for most of the FCIAC’s senior athletes, they have hung up their gloves for good without getting the chance to wear them a final time.
There is no cushion for that.