By: Garrett Mitchell, Contributing Writer
Any hope that schools across South Carolina could re-open and resume some degree of normalcy were dashed as Governor Henry McMaster announced on April 22 that all schools would remain closed for the remainder of the current academic year.
By virtue of that announcement, the worst fears of senior athletes were also realized. Their seasons and high school careers are now over. In the wake of that announcement, those athletes’ coaches are also coping with the challenge of consoling their outgoing upper-classmen, providing support for those players who will return next season, and juggling the logistics of keeping their athletes in shape while maintaining proper social distancing guidelines.
It is a dilemma that has been challenging for coaches and administrators alike, but the athletic staff at Woodruff High School has met the challenge head-on.
“The biggest challenge has just been being patient with the process,” said Woodruff Athletic Director Michael Morris. “I can’t do anything about it, and that is frustrating to me.”
Woodruff Head Softball Coach Will Lanford has tried to remain a voice of reason for his athletes who, in their lifetime, have not experienced a global crisis such as the ongoing pandemic and who are restless and frustrated. “I tried to explain to the softball team that stopping the season and closing school is to keep everyone healthy,” he said. “I stressed that their number one focus should be their health and their families’ health. The unknown is the biggest challenge.”
Woodruff Head Girls Soccer Coach Paige Roper added that she remains readily available to her players every day, ready to provide support, and that when the situation allows she will make sure her squad, which was a favorite to compete for a 3A state title this season, will still be celebrated.
“The girls on the team have my cell phone number and know they can call or text anytime they need to talk,” Roper said. “I have also assured them that we will get together to celebrate our team and seniors when we are able to meet again.”
It is not only spring sports coaches who have felt the strain of not being in school, around their athletes, or able to construct game plans. While much can happen between now and August, when school and athletics will hopefully be able to resume, Head Football Coach Bradley Adams is staring at the distinct possibility of losing spring practice, summer workouts, and passing camps that teams generally utilize to prepare for the fall season.
Still, says Adams, he is ready for anything that may happen.
“Our program is putting plans in place for many different scenarios,” Adams said. “We have a plan in place if we come back in June, and we have a plan we are working on if we come back in July. All we can do is be prepared for any situation that comes our way.”
Adams added, “The biggest challenge for the football program is just trying to make sure the players are okay and taken care of. We like for our guys to be in a routine and know where they are. This helps give us peace in knowing everyone is well and staying on the right track. In the current crisis situation we are in, it is very difficult to stay involved with our players. From a family standpoint we just want everyone to stay healthy.”
As difficult as times currently are, coaches are still serving as role models and sources of strength for their athletes. The coaching staff at Woodruff is no exception, and they all know that many valuable lessons can be imparted from the trials and tribulations of the coronavirus pandemic.
The 2020 season may be over, and as heartbreaking as it is for the outgoing seniors, these coaches know that they have many underclassmen who will take the field again in the future and that these lessons can be a valuable tool used to educate moving forward.
“Life can change very quickly, and you need to be able to adapt to those changes and make the best out of what you are dealt,” said Roper. “We will meet as a team and talk about the work we did before this time, how this time has affected us, and what we want to focus on for next season.”
Lanford added, “The lessons learned in this are patience and the understanding that health and well-being are the most important things in life. In addition, if we come together and work as a society, much like a sports team does, we can overcome anything as Americans.”
Others are also making the best of a bad situation, using time away from school to be closer to their families, a luxury that is at times scarce for coaches who spend so much of their time away from home.
“I have been able to spend a lot more time at home and have been able to eat as a family during the week and at a decent hour,” said Morris. “That is very rare during a normal school year.”
Still, Morris and Adams want their athletes and students to be thankful and to perhaps view life a little differently as the country moves towards healing itself and returning to normal in the coming months.
“The biggest lesson that we feel can be learned from this crisis is to never take things for granted and understand how fragile life can be,” Adams said. “We want to be able to use this situation with our players in a way that helps them understand the importance of not taking anything for granted.” Added Morris, “I think you learn to value each day and each game that you are fortunate to play in; tomorrow is not guaranteed.”