The next high school sporting contest in Utah will happen in early August when girls soccer teams trot out in near-100-degree weather for their first games, assuming things revert somewhat back to normal.
By August, it will have been almost five months separating the final spring sports contests, which happened in mid-March, and the first fall sports contests.
Boys track and field held a state championship in Utah every year from 1911-2019. This spring, the starting gun remains in its case.
Spring sports in Utah are canceled for the rest of the academic school year, per a Tuesday announcement from the Utah High School Activities Association.
This is just a sliver of how unprecedented the COVID-19 pandemic and its effects on society are.
The UHSAA made the announcement Tuesday afternoon following an announcement earlier that day from Gov. Gary Herbert and State Superintendent Sydnee Dickson that schools would remain in soft closure for the rest of the school year.
Based on precedent from other states, it was pretty obvious that, if schools closed for the rest of the school year, the UHSAA wouldn’t be far behind regarding sports. It turns out, it took less than two hours for a formal announcement to come about spring sports.
“One of the fundamentals of our association is we look at our playing fields and our courts as an extension of the classroom,” UHSAA assistant director Jon Oglesby said.
Oglesby added that any directive, positive or negative, coming from the governor’s office that affects education also affects education-based activities by extension.
“Once that announcement was made, our board of trustees quickly, but in a difficult sense, made the decision that without school being open and without having school in session, that it was extremely difficult for spring sports to be able to continue under the parameters of how we operate to this point,” he said.
“An extremely difficult decision, but once the announcement came down from the governor’s office as well as superintendent Dickson that no school would happen, there was really no recourse to continuing spring sports as we know it.”
Spring sports cancellation hurts for everyone involved: players, parents, family, coaches, fans, schools, reporters, everyone.
It especially hurts for the spring sports seniors.
Imagine working hard at something for years, then finally your senior season has arrived in a culmination of sorts.
Poof. It’s gone. Unless you’re going to play sports in college, this is it.
Some teams played a handful of games. Some teams got one game in before the season’s initial suspension in March.
No one knew back then that those games would’ve been the last, though many coaches and athletic directors have privately anticipated a full cancellation would happen since then.
Could there have been a solution that would’ve allowed spring sports to resume in some form?
It would’ve been very complicated to pull off. It might have included things like games with no fans (easy to do), social distancing protocols followed with separating team members (difficult but within the realm of possibility), keeping things sanitized (easy), making sure an asymptomatic virus carrier doesn’t spread COVID-19 to dozens of other people and creating more disease clusters (there’s a lot of hurdles to get that done).
“Obviously, if you can’t have mass gatherings of more than 10 people, it’s extremely problematic to have any type of athletic competition,” Oglesby said. “Another barrier is we contest our activities on school campuses and, if school campuses are not open, if transportation isn’t an option, it’s extremely difficult — if not impossible — to be able to have competition under the recommendations that have come down as part of the extension of the soft school closure.”
There’s problems in every sport with no feasible solution: how do you run track and field events, specifically running events, while complying with social distancing?
In softball and baseball, how do you accomplish social distancing when there’s an umpire, catcher and batter within inches of each other at home plate?
What about a runner on first or second base? Do infielders have to stand 6 feet away? Can infielders tag a runner?
And that’s assuming referees or umpires wouldn’t be freaked out about leaving their homes to officiate games — and get screamed at by parents, coaches and players — in the first place.
What about the close contact in soccer games — not just in one-on-one situations, but free kicks and other set pieces where both teams crowd the penalty box?
What about tennis players touching a tennis ball over and over with their often-sweaty hands? To that effect, how on Earth does one sanitize a tennis ball in enough time to get it back to the tennis player for the next point?
Teams would also have to practice before playing games, but they’d have to do it somewhere other than a school facility since they’re all in soft closure status.
Can you test everyone and do you have the capacity to do so?
You’re still walking on a tightrope and hoping no one gets the virus which — at this point, with no vaccine and treatment drugs in very early trial periods — is easiest to avoid by staying at home and not coming into close contact with anyone else.
Golf may have been able to be played with minimal interruption. There’s plenty of space on a course for golfers to more-than-social distance from each other. That’s one of the reasons why golf courses have been able to stay open throughout this crisis, at least in Utah.
But would it be fair to let golf go on and cancel other sports? No.
Let’s go back to the seniors for a minute. They don’t get another year of eligibility, so unless they’re going to play sports in college, this is it for them.
What do we even say to the seniors? Is there anything we can say that will make them feel better? Probably not.
Everyone’s in the same boat these days. Where that boat’s headed, nobody knows because there’s no map and, even if there was a map, it would likely be outdated very soon.
“We’re no different. Our hearts are broken for where we’re at right now as a society whether it’s the economy, whether it’s folks who are struggling with their health,” Oglesby said.
And that’s what makes this harder for them is there’s not really anything that can make it better. Life goes on, however much that’s going to hurt.
Maybe there’s a way they can be recognized in some way or, in the future, some sort of informal tournament or play day can take place so everyone can get on the field one last time.
Let’s hope the health climate allows for that.