By Eric Sprott
A five-year member of the Seneca High School baseball team, Walker Lathrop has looked on and celebrated dozens of teammates on senior night over the years, all while dreaming of his big night this spring.
And while that time may still indeed come, he’s among a growing number of seniors across the area who are coming to grips with the reality their senior sendoffs may not happen at all.
By executive order of Gov. Henry McMaster on Tuesday, South Carolina public schools will remain closed through the end of April in the hopes of curbing the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. That, in turn, means the high school spring sports season will be on hold at least as long, after the South Carolina High School League had previously suspended all athletic actives through April 5 less than two weeks ago.
Though it didn’t put out a statement immediately following McMaster’s announcement on Tuesday, the SCHSL acknowledged Wednesday the suspension will continue, with commissioner Jerome Singleton, unsurprisingly, saying there’s no way to speculate when a return to play will happen.
“We must continue the suspension of athletics not only as a necessary safety measure, but to fully comply with the governor’s executive order,” he said. “It saddens me to say at this time there is not a prediction on when middle and high school athletics will resume.”
Singleton added that, as previously scheduled, the SCHSL’s executive committee is still set to convene via teleconference one week from today to review the spring sports schedule.
And while no cancelation of spring sports yet means hope remains that contests could be played in May and June, Lathrop said he’s skeptical at best.
“It’s all very unfortunate for all of the spring senior athletes,” he said. “I just have a heavy heart for all of my seniors out there.”
That’s a widely held sentiment, as area athletic directors and coaches are also tempering expectations of a return to play this spring as the virus continues to spread after teams last had the chance to compete on March 14.
“It is exciting to see the SCHSL holding out hope on the possibility of continuing spring athletics later this spring,” Walhalla co-athletic director Alden Broome said. “However, the likelihood of it seems fairly dim at this point. If school were to start back May 1, it would not be feasible to start competing right away.”
As a frame of reference, practice began for all spring sports on Feb. 3, and the regular season for soccer began March 3, followed by baseball, boys’ golf, boys’ tennis, lacrosse, softball and track & field on March 9, meaning an equal amount of preparation would put the start of competition in early June.
Though a full month of practice before getting back to competition seems unlikely, Broome added another challenge lies with exam week, and the fact that Pickens and Oconee county graduations are set for May 23 and 30, respectively — further school closures and COVID-19 impact notwithstanding.
“I think there can and should be discussion about playing a region schedule in all spring sports if we were to start back on May 1, but there are challenges with that as well,” Broome said. “I don’t know if extending into early summer would even be an option, especially for seniors.
“I have not heard this mentioned, but I think the best option would be to play a region schedule in May, crown region champions and then finish the spring season without playoffs. That is far from ideal, but it lets our kids, especially our seniors, have somewhat of a meaningful season.”
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