Note: Throughout the next few weeks, we’ll hear from student-athletes from different sports whose seasons were cut short due to COVID-19.
McALLEN — On March 16, the University Interscholastic League (UIL) announced a two-week suspension of all activities due to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.
Three days later, the UIL extended its suspension of athletics until May 4, at the earliest.
Friday at noon, Texas Governor Greg Abbott announced the cancellation of schools across the state. Hours after, the UIL followed suit by officially canceling all spring activities and state championships for the remainder of the 2019-20 school year, cutting athletic seasons short for thousands of high school athletes in Texas.
Baseball, golf, powerlifting, soccer, softball, tennis, track and field — done. Spring training for high school football teams? Over before it started.
“I think like most coaches throughout the state, we’re kind of disappointed that this took place, but you have to look at the situation that we’re in. I think safety and precaution comes first,” McAllen High baseball head coach Eliseo Pompa said. “Most of us kind of feel bad because we felt there was a little light at the end of the tunnel, but like the governor put it Friday, it shut that light down and made it official that all spring sports are going to be canceled.”
For baseball and softball players, the suspension started as the first spring break they’ve had in years as that’s normally time for district play. But the suspension dragged on, then the cancellation happened, and now, their seasons are over after just 15-20 games.
“The waiting game and the uncertainty was the worst part of all of this. We had a lot of hope that the UIL would figure out some way to get our athletes to finish their seasons, but we understand and agree that the health of our kids and their families is the priority,” Mercedes softball head coach Kristy Leal said. “It’s difficult as a coach to gather the words to say to your seniors in this situation, but we have three girls that are mature, understanding and grateful to have been able to have the opportunity to play in our program. We agreed that being able to at least compete in multiple scrimmages, tournaments and games is much better than not being able to have a season at all this year. They have been able to make beautiful memories together that will last a lifetime.”
The McHi Bulldogs baseball team put together a 14-2-1 record early through the season with a strong senior group. Pompa said while it certainly stings to lose baseball, those seniors could also lose the opportunity to experience senior prom and graduation.
“My concern was our seniors. They’re missing out on not only their baseball season, but they’re missing out on prom, hopefully they still have an opportunity to at least wear their caps and gowns to graduate,” Pompa said. “I feel really bad for our seniors and all the kids that work all offseason to get to this point. They work their butts off to improve their skills.”
After reaching the fourth round of the playoffs a season ago, the Edinburg Vela SaberCats softball team won’t have the opportunity to follow it up.
“The team understands the situation, but is disappointed that the season is over. As a team we were playing well and getting healthy,” Edinburg Vela head softball coach Jon Maples said. “I feel bad for my seniors that put in so much hard work into the season. We had some big goals this year and I think this team could have made another deep run in the playoffs. I’m very proud of all my players, and we’re looking forward to next year and our new district.”
For powerlifters, their season comes to a screeching halt. Girls high school powerlifters who qualified were prepared to compete at the Texas High School Women’s Powerlifting Association State Meet. Boys powerlifters didn’t have the opportunity to qualify for state as their regional powerlifting meet was postponed in mid-March.
“The toughest part is having seniors that this was their last opportunity. They’ve been doing it for four years and they had a really good chance at winning state, so that part is difficult,” La Joya Palmview powerlifting head coach Renzo Tamez said.
RGV boys and girls soccer teams, perhaps the Valley’s strongest sport, had almost completely wrapped up district competition and were preparing for the start of the postseason on March 26. But, that postseason won’t happen.
The Sharyland Rattlers girls soccer team, which raced out to a 30-3-2 record and a District 31-5A championship, shed some tears when they learned this season’s fate. Sharyland head coach Mario Ribera said life teaches lessons in different ways, and when it does, you must adjust to whatever life brings.
“We had a tremendous season this year with 30-3-2. Most of the girls were ready, coaches were ready,” Ribera said. “We already had scouted bi-district teams and area teams because we felt this team had what it takes to advance to at least the third or fourth round. We did our job and we were ready. We were not expecting this. We were going 100 miles per hour as a school, in sports, in life, and I think this is a time for us to reflect and the young student athletes to focus on their future.”
The UIL announced it has shifted its focus from finding a solution onto the 2020-21 school year. The start of high school volleyball and football is just three and a half months away.
Mercedes’ Leal said overcoming this hurdle will teach life lessons to student-athletes and motivate them to treat every game like it’s their last.
“Brighter times are ahead and after facing this adversity and uncertainty, I believe all these student-athletes are going to cherish every opportunity they have to step on the field in the future,” Leal said. “As a coach, obviously I’m devastated for my seniors, but I know this situation has put things into perspective for them. They understand that athletics do not define them. The way they have faced this adversity with poise and strength is what they will carry on with them for the rest of their lives.”