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'You have to take the bitter with the sweet': Local high school coaches come to terms with a lost sports season
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'You have to take the bitter with the sweet': Local high school coaches come to terms with a lost sports season

From the COVID-19/coronavirus daily update from the region, state, nation and world: March 24 series
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By Cara Cooper

Bulletin Sports Editor

After just two scrimmages, Magna Vista softball coach Brian Brinegar was beyond excited for his team this season.

The Warriors returned six seniors, all of whom had played together since they were about seven years old. Magna Vista defeated Dan River, a VHSL Class 2 state tournament team last year, 10-9 in the first scrimmage, and Carroll County, 9-4, in the second.

“I was really excited, honestly,” Brinegar said by phone Monday. “What I had seen out of the first two scrimmages was by far the best team that I had ever had. We looked really good just all the way through. Even the ones that were probably going to be on the bench were going to be pretty strong too.”

But, with the threat of coronavirus looming over the entire world, Brinegar knew there was a possibility the sports season may be in jeopardy early on.

“The second scrimmage… is when it first started about how school might be out and stuff and after the game I told the girls, ‘Y’all better enjoy this because this could be the last game,’” he said. “And they were like, ‘No way, no way. If anything we’ll just be out a couple weeks.’ And I was like, ‘I hope and pray that’s right, but you never know.’

“Come to find out that was the last time they’ll ever be on a high school field together.”

The Virginia High School League announced on Monday that all spring sports and activities in the state will be cancelled this season after Governor Ralph Northam announced that all schools in the state of Virginia would remain closed through the end of the academic year.

“We need to support our Governor and State Superintendent,” VHSL Executive Director Dr. John W. “Billy” Haun said in a release. “These actions were taken to protect Virginians, keep them safe and healthy, and to help slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus.”

The release went on to state that the VHSL will meet with its Crisis Management Team on Tuesday morning to discuss the future of spring sports and academic activities. The two groups will hold a conference call on Tuesday to discuss all options relating to spring sports and academic activities following the current academic year and into the summer, and said they will announce a decision following the meeting.

The four local public high schools in the Bulletin area include Bassett, Magna Vista, Martinsville, and Patrick County, each competing in boys and girls tennis, baseball, softball, boys and girls soccer, and outdoor track in the spring.

Carlisle School also had its spring season cancelled by the Virginia Independent Schools Athletic Association. The Chiefs compete in baseball, girls soccer, boys tennis, and golf in the spring.

The season was initially postponed just a few days before the first games were going to be played on March 16, so no local schools got a chance to play a single real game.

“It would definitely make me feel better if they would have said, ‘We’re going to close up schools on Tuesday, you all can play one last game,’” Brinegar said. “That way everybody could have been there and kind of done a senior night. But it was like all of a sudden and it caught everybody off guard I guess.”

Coaches in the area said they saw the writing on the wall after Northam initially closed schools for two weeks, a mandate that was set to expire on Friday. The spring season had always been in jeopardy given how much is still unknown about the deadly virus.

“I’m thinking that this is the right call. They know a little bit more about this than I do. I guess this is the right call for right now,” said Martinsville outdoor track coach Kelvin Jackson. “I am 62 years old and this is something I’ve never lived through. I’ve never seen anything like this. I don’t have anything to compare it to… This is just unheard of.

Brinegar said he was unhappy when the official cancellation was announced on Monday, and echoed the sentiments of other coaches who felt for the seniors on the team who won’t be able to have a final high school season.

“A lot of them, that was the last time they’ll ever be on the field. They’ll never get to play again,” Brinegar said. “I would hate to know that I had went 12 and a half years to school and my last semester got taken away from me all of a sudden.”

“At my age, I’ve done all I want to do but some of these kids, they’ll never get this chance again,” Jackson said.

Bassett baseball coach David Cunningham said his team had been working out together since September to get ready for the upcoming season, playing in a local fall league with other high schools at Hooker Field, and getting in the batting cages right after Christmas.

The Bengals had five seniors on the squad this season.

“I really had some dedicated seniors and some dedicated 14 or 15 guys who were constantly there,” Cunningham said. “My heart just goes out to them. I can’t imagine.”

Cunningham said he was still trying to find the words to say to his players and was hoping to send a group text to them all sometime in the coming days.

“I just, I hate it for them because I know how hard they worked and how much they loved baseball and baseball season,” he said. “I’m just heartbroken for the kids. I know how much work they put into it. I was so proud of them. We had a really solid team from top to bottom, we got two really good scrimmages in and we were really looking forward to the season. Good leadership, good senior leadership, they all worked hard. We were looking forward to it.”

While coaches said players are understandably heartbroken, they wanted to keep in perspective what is really happening and why these tough decisions are being made.

“The only thing that they’ve got to understand, what’s going on out there right now, it’s real. You don’t want to get sick,” Jackson said. “You don’t want to have any lingering problems from whatever happens so this is the best decision, you know.

“Unless they have a solution to our problems, which is they find a cure or some kind of vaccine or whatever… As bad as it is for them, this is the best decision for us.

“You have to take the bitter with the sweet. That’s how life is. You have to take the bitter with the sweet.”

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