KSHSAA coaches and athletes deal with COVID-19 cutting seasons short

BY BRADEN HOLECEK

A few weeks ago, the COVID-19 brought all levels of sports to a screeching halt.

No March Madness. 

The NBA and NHL suspended their respective seasons. 

Finally, Major League Baseball’s spring training was put to an end.

On a smaller level, high school athletes were just beginning to prepare for spring sports.

The coronavirus pandemic affected more than just games or practices for high-school athletes. Coaches’ and athletes’ schedules were drastically altered. Meanwhile, senior athletes had no idea their high school careers would suddenly be finished.

Ellsworth High School Athletic Director Ron Davis Jr. broke down the decisions made for high school spring sports by the Kansas State High School Activities Association and its executives.

“All decisions on how to handle spring sports took place at the state level, executive board of KSHSAA,” Davis Jr. said. “This pandemic hit so fast, there was little time or opportunity to have input available before decisions had to be made.”

With decisions needing to be made quickly, the inevitable started to set in. The belief was growing the coronavirus was going to seriously affect the spring sports calendar.

“When the Friday, March 13 announcement came out that state basketball was canceled, and by Sunday, March 15, the Kansas Department of Education informed school administrators that they would be locking down until further notice,” Davis Jr. said. “That is when I knew things were very serious. It also came to the realization, athletics are going to take a backseat to this pandemic.”

Meanwhile, Ellsworth’s assistant girls’ basketball and golf coach Kevin Haxton was upset for the players.

“My initial thoughts were frustration for the kids and coaches that were still competing at the end of a season for a state championship,” Haxton said. “I felt bad for all those that still had a chance to fulfill their dreams of earning a state title.”

Haxton added he wished KSHSAA would have completed the state basketball tournament. 

“Players and coaches deserved the right to finish their seasons,” he said. “A true champion should have been determined.”

As for Ellsworth head girls’ basketball and softball coach Kenny Cravens, he was disheartened.

“I was saddened for our team, as well as all other teams, especially the seniors,” Cravens said. “Sports play an integral part of many of our young people’s lives and development.”

Davis Jr. said the difficult part is sympathizing with the students. 

“It’s heartbreaking for seniors who don’t get a chance to write the ending to their senior year — athletically and academically,” he said.

It is not just about getting to be on one of the teams, either. Players set standards for themselves. Coaches look to give knowledge to their players in a plethora of ways.

“Those that set goals and high standards not being able to take on the challenge and know the final outcome,” Davis Jr. said. “When KSHSAA announced all spring sports for 2020 have been canceled, it put me in shock-mode. But the daily reminder that it isn’t going to happen is a punch in the gut for our kids and coaches.”

Haxton had high hopes for the golf team this spring, and had hoped to see the team play at the state meet.

“We had an opportunity to make improvements from a year ago with a number of returning players,” he said. “We were all looking forward to the chance to play in the newly formatted two-day state tournament.”

As for his players, Haxton said they were extremely dejected about not being able to play.

“It can be very exonerating for my kids as they finish up their school work for the year,” he said.

For Cravens, he will miss the players.

“Watching them compete, develop, succeed, grow, fail and the relationships that they form during the season.” he said.

Seniors have been dealt a significant blow by losing their final chance to compete in a sport this spring.

“Seniors don’t get a do-over. There isn’t next season, and only a small percentage get to play at the next level,” Davis Jr. said. “It hurts knowing that their spring sport memory ends the same every time, ‘What if …’ “

Haxton said the loss of a season could hurt some students’ chances to compete at the next level.

“Freshmen and sophomores still have more seasons to prove their mettle,” Haxton said. “Missing the spring season has a major impact on kids that desire competing at the college level for their spring sport.”

Cravens described that same situation for the softball team.

“Hard to see the seniors go without getting the chance to see them compete in the final season,” he said. “Freshman (through) juniors will hopefully have future opportunities to grow and shine, but losing the senior leadership hurts.”

Cravens also said he hopes everyone has a great appreciation of opportunities in front of them when the pandemic eases.

The pandemic does not just hit home for Davis Jr. as an athletic director. It also means something to him as a parent. 

His son, Kaden, is a wide receiver on the Northwest Missouri State football team. Also, his daughter, Kolby, is a guard on the Barton County Community College women’s basketball team.

“For Kaden, this is the first time in his life to not be involved in athletics on a daily basis. Being a football player, he spends the winter getting up at 4:30 a.m. to go to workouts with the reward being to battle for your position during spring ball,” Davis Jr. said. “Now, spring ball is canceled, and the opportunity to continue building your strength and skills has been put on hold and left with the unknown and lack of direction to what is next. I can’t imagine being a college football coach right now.”

It is a little different for Kolby. Yet, the unknown remains.

“Kolby, fortunately, was able to see her basketball season through to the end. But with her completing her second year at a JUCO, her future plans have been put on hold as she is unable to visit potential colleges,” Davis Jr. said. “As a parent, the positive is we are home under one roof as a family and healthy. The negative is lives are being put on hold with no clear sense of direction or target in sight. Never thought I would have three kids attending three different colleges under one roof.”

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