High school sports, at least for the 2019-20 school year, are over.
The UIL halted a five-week waiting game for student-athletes and coaches around the state on Friday with its decision to cancel all remaining sports on the current academic calendar, the latest in a series of measures being taken around the state against the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
It was the exact news teams were hoping to avoid, spending the past month with their sights set on resuming play through at-home workouts and video meetings with coaches and teammates — all for an outcome that left all involved without a proper resolution to the season.
“We were on the Zoom and I told the guys that school would be cancelled and that we were still waiting on the final word from the UIL, and just as I said that my manager told me the UIL just made their announcement on their website,” said Sam Garza, Marcus head boys soccer coach. “As I’m talking to my guys, I’m reading the the news from the UIL. It was extremely hard to see that it was all done.”
It’s a somber reality that many around the state have been coping with since Friday afternoon following the UIL’s announcement — a verdict that came just a few hours after Texas Gov. Greg Abbott declared that all schools would remain closed for the remainder of the academic year. The UIL’s decision-making process has been in lockstep with the governor’s since the pandemic took hold, making Friday’s announcement bleakly inevitable.
“It’s unfortunate for everybody and all the high schools involved. But we know we have people above us who have to make decisions for the greater good, so we’ll get through it the best we can,” said Brandon McCallum, Lewisville head boys soccer coach. “We’ve talked with our seniors and are trying to keep it upbeat. We’re just trying to go business as usual other than being able to play.”
Coaches around the state echo those same sentiments for their own senior classes — many of whom have spent years building toward an opportunity to lead their teams and leave their mark on their respective programs. To have that chance taken away impacted coaches the most.
“When I came in for John (Gall) in 2016-17 as the interim head coach, all those freshmen are now my seniors. They were always my favorite group to coach and be around,” Garza said. “I loved those kids and knew that were going to be a special group. For them to finally have their year, plus with some of the pieces we added, we had all the stars aligned, and for these seniors who have worked so hard and are such great kids and incredible leaders, it’s been hard.”
“You really feel for those seniors who didn’t get to end it on their own terms, and in fact had it end different from any year that I’ve ever seen in my career,” added Steve Stone, Hebron head baseball coach. “They just didn’t get to finish it and there was no closure to the season, and there’s no way to get that closure. It’s like dropping off a cliff. Our kids will always be Hebron Hawks and it hurts knowing they won’t get to put on those jerseys again.”
“Three of them have played since they were sophomores and have been integral parts of the team,” McCallum added. “We also had some guys from JV come up as seniors that moved into the team and helped out a bunch. Kobe (Soto), Fernando (Gonzalez) and Ethan (Carbajal) were captains and losing that, with the experience they have, is tough.”
Many of those upperclassmen helped will their teammates on during the UIL’s initial suspension on all interscholastic activities while those within the athletics body worked on a myriad of contingency plans should play resume — everything from round-robin tournaments to single-elimination postseasons and even summer sports.
“The latest was if school started on May 4 that we’d have a week-long acclimation period and then play some type of tournament within our district to see which four teams advance,” Stone said. “It would have been really short, maybe only a week to complete, and then you would play nothing but one-game series for the playoffs. Going week by week, there would be two rounds every week.”
It won’t be until the 2020-21 school year when teams hope for some semblance of a return to normalcy. In the meantime, they’ve paid their respects to the season that almost was, including numerous tributes to the seniors. For a program like Lewisville boys soccer, those celebrations will continue.
“My guys have been working on playoff T-shirts,” McCallum said. “I think we’re still going to do that for them — even though they won’t compete in the playoffs they still made it. Each one of them is going to come up with a design.”
Finding closure won’t be easy given the work put in by many of these athletes. But through an all-too unique experience, coaches hope their players come out stronger and more focused from having dealt with it.
“I hope it changes their mentality. I hope it changes their mindset going forward — knowing that every time you step on the field that it could be your last match and to not take it for granted,” Garza said. “I know that with my guys it’s been such a special group that they never did that and the one time they took it for granted they got beat by Coppell.
“Other than that, every day their mindset was to grind and get after it and work their tails off. They reaped the benefits and we had one of our best years ever as a program.”