After months of socially distanced practices, temperature checks and mask mandates, Superintendent Joris Ray made the difficult decision to suspend fall sports due to the COVID-19 pandemic on Sept. 15.
The decision granted no exceptions to football or even contact-less sports.
“Our decision to postpone fall athletics until further notice is another unimaginable consequence of an unprecedented time,” Superintendent Ray said on Twitter. “We will do all we can to return to play SAFELY.”
For some student-athletes, the initial reaction was one of frustration, as the measures taken to condition safely would not yield opportunities to compete.
“[I felt] a lot of anger and confusion,” four-year soccer midfielder Emma Meadows (12) said. “I had prepared myself for the past three months that this might happen, but I wasn’t very prepared to be the only district in the state of Tennessee not able to return to playing.”
If they were in Superintendent Ray’s position, most athletes agree that they would have adjusted the timing of the news delivery.
“I wish, in the beginning, [the board] would just make a decision instead of pushing back the deadline of when they’re going to cancel fall sports because at that point, it was just a tease,” cross country runner Luke Nalos (12) said. “I think the decision-making and the time it took to make that decision was just a little too long.”
Many athletes and coaches anticipated a successful season but have now lost the opportunity to find out how they measure against competition.
“I know our seniors expected to make a legitimate run to the state championship, and as a coach, that is the kind of confidence you like to see in a group of players,” head football coach Reid Yarbrough said. “The work ethic and leadership of guys like Danny Gwin (12) and Jeremy Boyland (12) put us in a position to be favorites in our region, but we all know that we play in the hardest classification in the state, and nothing is guaranteed.”
The suspension of sports also means that athletes lose a full season that could be looked at by college scouts.
“I had two offers from my last season, but this season was the season to get the majority of my offers, but I don’t get that opportunity no more,” linebacker Daniel Gwin said. “Now, I’m kind of stuck.”
From a freshman point of view, while the decision does not prematurely terminate a high school career, it still weighed heavily.
“I feel like it has impacted me a lot less than the seniors and juniors who are applying for college; however, I feel as though we are all sad about the outcome,” volleyball player Hattie Miller (9) said.
Besides the obvious physical benefits derived from sports, student-athletes vouch for the positive effect playing a sport has on their mental wellbeing.
“I think the whole reason to have sports, honestly, is the mental health benefit,” Meadows said. “A lot of underprivileged students don’t get the love and the support [they need] in their homes, and I feel like sports is a really good way to manage their mental health and to teach them values of life.”
Although maintaining fitness is a focus of athletes, they continue to consider the dangers of playing amidst the conditions of COVID-19.
“Being active is part of human nature… but I mean, in this case, people are dying because of the coronavirus, so I think it’s more important to stop the spread,” Nalos said. “There are plenty of alternatives besides being in each others’ faces.”
Overall, for many athletes, the greatest loss was not the opportunity to win a championship or to wear their jersey on game days — it was the loss of a season with their teammates who they consider to be like family.
“I wanted to play with my brothers,” Gwin said. “It’s not just about me… at White Station, we have built a family and a brotherhood… I was going to dedicate the season to my brothers.”