By James Kay
For weeks, the IHSA held out hope that it could salvage spring sports. It proposed ideas about extending the 2020 campaign into the summer and trying to structure an abbreviated version of a season. Unfortunately, the global outbreak of COVID-19 has put an end to what is now a lost season for the athletic programs in the state.
With Lyons Township High School already postponing prom and graduation to June, the senior athletes at the school are trying to deal with not being able to finish off their season the "right way."
Chris Clarke, who played football at LTHS and was going to be on the baseball team this year, feels for the spring athletes who won't get the closure he got at the end of the fall season last year.
"Thank God that it wasn't during football season, because I couldn't imagine not being able to play out a season I worked that hard for," said Clarke. "The players that only play baseball and who have been waiting all year and getting ready for it, I feel so bad. Just to not have the closure for what they've been doing all four years is terrible."
Clarke's teammate and fellow senior Matt Schuler took the cancelation of the season hard even though he will get a chance to play at the collegiate level at Maryville University. He had set up a net and tee, did weight training and played long toss to stay in shape until the news broke.
"There has been rumors and predictions that the season was over way before the IHSA officially called it, but when the news struck, I was absolutely devastated," said Schuler. "I had put so much time and effort in during the off-season to have a big senior year and it was just taken away from me because of the virus."
Schuler and Clarke said that the team and the players' parents are trying to figure out ways to honor the senior class, though they are not sure how possible it is given the circumstances.
While, like the baseball team, they are also broken up by the IHSA's decision, LTHS' softball team has found a way to make the most of the situation.
During the sports hiatus, Lions softball explored virtual connections to stay in contact. They competed through various challenges that ranged from at-home workouts through Zoom to Tuesday Trivia coordinated by their coaches. They split into mini-teams (four players per team) and have found humor and fun in the virtual experience.
"It has been nice staying connected with the team virtually," said senior Olivia Catelli. "The challenges are a fun way of working together to achieve a common goal and they are also super funny to watch over. I have enjoyed Trivia Tuesday with our coach and mini teams as it is a fun way to laugh and distract myself from all the uncertainty in the world right now."
The junior varsity team has even gotten in on some of the challenges, and it has helped everyone in the program stay connected (and competitive) while remaining far apart.
However, there's only so much off-the-field coordination that can fill an athlete's desire in the realm of competition. For LTHS boys water polo, the end of what could have been a state championship season this year hurt as much as falling short of their high expectations in 2019.
Last year, the team finished second in the state tournament and, during an offseason tournament, beat a Stevenson High School team that was considered the second-best team in the state heading into this season.
Looking to come out on top at state in their final year together, the team's seniors were crestfallen over not being able to play out the season.
"I mean, we had been expecting it once schools got shut down," said senior Bobby Bolan, who garnered all-state honors last year. "We figured there's probably no chance we're going to get to play. But yeah, hearing the news was pretty devastating. We worked for four years as a group to try to win this year. And we didn't even get the opportunity to play so it hurts."
The parents of players on the team organized a parade to honor the seniors. According to Bolan, there were around 30 cars that drove to every senior's house and gave a solidarity honk as they went by.
Even with the season's end, Bolan also said that depending on how things play out this summer that teams in the area could potentially try to hold an informal water polo tournament between conference rivals.
"A lot has to change for that to happen, but it's a long summer so I feel like by like late June or early July, I feel like it could happen," said Bolan.