Central Cabarrus softball field

The Central Cabarrus softball field, home of the reigning Class 3A state runners-up, usually is a lively place. But like other fields of play in the county, no action is taking place after the N.C. High School Athletic Association was forced to halt spring sports because of the coronavirus outbreak.

CONCORD – This sucks.

C. Jemal Horton

Sports editor, C. Jemal Horton

jhorton@independenttribune.com

I know that phrase will offend some folks and anger others, and I apologize in advance for using it.

But that’s the only thing that comes to mind as I drive past empty high school baseball and softball stadiums, and so many other fields of play, in Cabarrus County these days.

This truly, beyond a shadow of doubt, sucks.

Literally just a few weeks ago, the high school kids preparing to get spring sports going full throttle in Cabarrus County had worlds of possibilities on their minds:

Is this the year we take the next step and win the championship?

Can we simply do better than we did last year?

Can I prove to Coach that I deserve more playing time?

Is this the year I make college recruiters notice me?

Instead, now our kids live in a world that requires them to ask if the grocery store’s going to get more toilet paper soon or, God forbid, if a loved one is going to die from one of the ugliest words many of us will ever encounter.

Coronavirus.

And that word is much more offensive than the ones I used earlier in this column.

Coronavirus is an unforgiving killer – a killer of people, a killer of futures, a killer of hopes and dreams. And as we’re seeing right now, a killer of sports seasons.

Earlier this week, the N.C. High School Athletic Association announced that its spring sports season would be pushed back to at least May 18. No practices or games can take place until then, and with the passing of each day, the prospect of that May 18 restart date seems to look more and more improbable.

Although I pray that I’m wrong on that prognosis.

But I want to be clear: I think the NCHSAA did the right thing by shutting things down when it did. The number of people infected is climbing at an alarming rate, and there’s still far too much that we don’t understand about this pandemic. It’s just too risky to have players congregating on activity buses and in locker rooms and huddles. The same goes for parents working in and purchasing from concession stands or sharing bleachers.

The NCHSAA, led by the governor’s decision to close schools until at least May 15, really had to do this.

But when you think about how much is being stolen from our young athletes this time of year, it actually breaks your heart.

And makes you angry.

And it sucks.

I get it: There are plenty of things far more pressing than games and matches right now. You can miss me with the emails about work layoffs and the dissolution of businesses and, well, life and death.

I get it, and I sympathize with everyone going through it.

But that doesn’t mean the games and matches aren’t important; they are. Especially to the upperclassmen who began grinding as confidence-shaken freshmen looking forward to the senior seasons their coach told them all those years ago would be when all the hard work would start to pay off.

And now, those same kids might not even get a chance to see the fruits of all that sweat equity.

It’s just as difficult for the parents – you know, the folks who’ve supported the young athletes, emotionally and financially, through the years.

What happens to their memories?

The mental image of their child finally moving up from JV to don that varsity uniform.

The mental image of that first hit, that first goal, that first set win, that first round at even par.

And then there’s one of my personal favorites: the photos of boys in tuxedos and girls in evening gowns standing on baseball and softball diamonds right before they take off for the prom.

Because, unfortunately, prom has been cancelled at most schools, too.

It all sucks.

This isn’t the Olympics, where the Games’ qualifiers can just wait a year and then get their chances to compete for gold medals.

This isn’t even the NCAA, where coaches and athletic administrators at least have a longshot of successfully petitioning to get an extra year of eligibility for their athletes.

For the high school seniors who were set up to play sports this spring, there is no next year.

Opportunities to earn college scholarships could be missed.

Chances to create those lifelong memories of sing-a-long bus rides and team mosh pits after big victories quite possibly are gone.

The only thing these kids might be left with are unanswered questions of what could’ve been and the stinking memory of a five-syllable pandemic that will haunt the world for quite some time.

And that … well, you know.

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