COVID-19 changes the game

On Sunday, South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster announced that all schools statewide would be closing from March 16-31 to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus. With no school, high school athletics have also been shut down and with the South Carolina High School League cancelling all spring sports until April 5 on Monday, who really knows when or if high school sports will be allowed to come back this school year. With this decision, like any decision that affects and changes a great number of lives, there will be some form of derision.

I am no expert on disease and for that reason alone, I am not in a place to definitively say whether this ban is a good or bad thing. There is so much we as an American people don’t know yet about this virus. However, what we do know is this — it has entered our country and in just two short months it has infected more than 1,000 Americans, it has killed almost 50, and as of yet, it has shown no signs of slowing down. There is no end in sight with this virus, and the best thing we can do is try and contain it as best we can.

With all that in mind, I still wish we could have taken some other option. Not because I take this disease lightly, but because I know this could be the last time many of the senior athletes around Pickens County, the state of South Carolina and, as precautions grow, the country at large will be able to play the sport they love.

According to the NCAA, there were more than 3 million athletes nationwide who competed in the sports that South Carolina’s high school athletes compete in during spring over the course of the 2017-2018 athletic season. Of those athletes, only 6.7 percent of them continued to play at the next level.

Those numbers aren’t astronomically low. Far from it, and yet for someone who has spent their life devoted to a game, making it to the next level is a lot like winning the lottery.

Even those athletes who make it to the next level are losing a lot. They are losing one last season with their friends, their senior night recognition for all the hard work they’ve put into their program and their one last shot at state championship glory. But even then, they get to move on and play after high school. They get to continue to partake in their own favorite pasttime. Now, there will be a whole class of students who will lose all those same things and also never get to play at a competetive level ever again.

It’s a heartbreaking proposition for me to ponder as a former athlete who waited three long years for my time in the spotlight, knowing that my future lay outside the realm of athletics.

When you’re in high school, senior year is something you dream about every day, and for the athletes it’s the culmination of working your way up the ladder.

The whole time I played, it never seemed like it was going to end. I dreaded the practices, the running and all the things that come with being an athlete. But from the moment it was over, I have missed all those things just as much as I have missed taking Singleton Field on a Friday night and slinging the discus in the middle of a March day.

In spite of all those feelings, at least I knew there was an end in sight. So many of these kids this year have worked so incredibly hard to get where they are this season and will have nothing to show for it beyond the yearning desire to have had just one more chance.

So please, think first of those who are ill or who may be susceptible to this terrible disease that is afflicting our country, but don’t forget about the young men and women around the country who have given so much time and effort to their athletic trades and won’t be able to see it through.