Trojan Coaching Staff Laments Shutdown of Seasons, Expresses Concern for Student Athletes

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Weather conditions were ideal Friday when the MHSAA announced the official cancellation of the 2020 high school spring sports season. (Photo by Mark Meyer)

Because it had been three weeks since East Lansing Athletic Director Nikki Norris had last met with her Trojan coaching staff in person, Friday’s online Zoom session meant that she would have a chance to reconnect — albeit via the internet — with a group of colleagues whom she misses seeing in person, and on the various courts and fields where their teams compete.

And when word of the MHSAA’s decision to cancel the remainder of the winter sports postseason and the entire spring season became public, on a day when Mother Nature provided an ideal springlike backdrop, Norris became even more thankful that she could spend a few moments directly with staff that she not only respects but relies upon heavily during the course of the school year.

“It was a bittersweet moment, because as we’re meeting and going through our various updates, I start seeing some texts from people asking if I had seen the announcement,” Norris said. “I told them if I’m going to get bad news I want to be surrounded by you guys. We all pretty much heard it together, and I sure wish we were allowed to hug people today.”

In compliance with the “state of disaster” directive Thursday by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer for the remainder of the school year to help decrease the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus, the Michigan High School Athletic Association officially cancelled the remainder of the 2019-20 winter and spring sports seasons on Friday. According to a news release, this will be the first school year without MHSAA finals played in multiple sports since 1942-43, when World War II led to the elimination of finals in most sports.

On March 12, the MHSAA suspended its girls and boys basketball, girls gymnastics, boys ice hockey and boys swimming and diving tournaments amid COVID-19 concerns. All activity in all sports was halted March 13. Spring sports to that point had begun practice, but not competition.

“We understand as much as anyone how much school sports mean to athletes and their communities,” MHSAA Executive Director Mark Uyl said. “We had ideas and hopes for finishing winter and spring and helping bring some sort of normalcy after this long break. For now, we cannot state strongly enough that all students, staffs and others follow the guidelines established to slow the spread of this virus – we all must do our part.”

Because the five winter sports were not able to conclude with finals, no champions will be awarded in those sports for 2019-20. However, championships won at earlier rounds of those tournaments (district or regional) will continue to stand.

The East Lansing girls basketball team was 23-1 and preparing to play for a regional championship when the winter sports postseason was shut down on March 12. (Photo by Jim Pivarnik)

East Lansing girls basketball coach Rob Smith and his players had been wearing specially designed commitment bracelets (designed by assistant coach Cosette Buckberry) in hopes that their postseason would resume.

“My first thought is how I feel for the girls, the coaching staff and the families,” Smith said. “We did everything we could do to make this year special. We played a very difficult schedule, maybe second only to Detroit Edison – who gave us our only loss. We were really rolling, playing great defense, and had a very good chance to go all the way.”

After having completed the regular season with a 19-1 overall record, including 12-0 in the Capital Area Activities Conference (CAAC) Blue division, the Trojans rattled off four straight postseason victories and were preparing for a regional championship game against Holt when the season was abruptly halted.

“Your heart goes out to the seniors,” Smith said, “because that’s it for them.”

In the three weeks since the shutdown of school, Trojan track and field coach Pat Murray had been gathering athletes informally for workouts and training sessions under social distancing guidelines. Murray, like his fellow coaches, is at a loss to describe what it’s like knowing there won’t be a spring season for his senior athletes.

Andrew Lane, third from right, competes in the 2019 Greater Lansing Track and Field Championship at Michigan State University’s Ralph Young Field. (Photo by Mark Meyer) 

“I’ve had college coaches come up to me at the Greater Lansing Invitational to recruit kids,” Murray said. “So much can happen in a short amount of time, and these athletes unfortunately will be missing out on those opportunities. Of course, we want them to be safe. That goes without saying. But you also have to feel for someone — like (senior distance specialist) Andrew Lane — who was on the cusp of really breaking through.”

According to its news release, the MHSAA will in coming weeks provide guidelines and other information pertinent to this unusual offseason as attention is turned toward preparing for the 2020 season.

“The next step is to determine what we can do for offseason training during the summer. That officially starts the Monday after Memorial Day weekend,” Norris said. “Until then, as has hard as it is to forego a senior season, let’s remember that if (some of this preventive action) means that a grandparent gets to see them graduate from college, or experience a similar life event, then it’s obviously worth it.”

“But it is difficult. I’m going through the same thing with my daughter who is a senior (at Corunna High School). We’re struggling. And I know our kids are struggling. The coaches have been so compassionate. They want to be there to support the kids.”

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