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Empty fields, empty dugouts

High school athletes are not the only ones affected by the virus-mandated shutdown of spring sports. Area high school coaches have also had to come to terms with their seasons coming to a sudden close.

Several teams had high hopes of runs at area and state championships. To almost any coach. that is what sports is all about – preparing a team for a season and having them playing their best at the end. This time, however, the end came suddenly, with no chance at chasing those dreams.

Coaches become attached to their players, who spend more time with their coaches than their parents during the season.  As would be expected, local coaches are sad the season ended the way it did, but they are more concerned for their players – especially the seniors.

“It’s definitely not how you draw it up,” said Russellville baseball coach Chris Heaps. “It is not how you hope it will happen. It just happened so fast, with everything getting shut down.”

Like other teams, the Golden Tigers were trying to squeeze in as many games as possible schools were scheduled to shut down March 18. They were scheduled to play two teams at Jacksonville State, but they ended up not being able to use the Gamecocks facility.

“Alexandria said they would be glad to host. We had a great day,” Heaps said. “We got there thinking we could play through Tuesday. We had scheduled some area games. But things just started happening so fast.

“We knew it was a very real likelihood our season was done, so we decided to recognize the seniors from all three teams.”

Because of the way the season ended, coaches didn’t get a chance to talk to their teams or seniors as a group before the mandatory shutdowns occurred.

“I was thinking about my seniors today. I hope we get a chance to do something for them,” Heaps added. “I hate it for everybody. We are in the small scheme of things. Baseball is our world. But I’ve seen people come together with family and do things together. It puts things in perspective.

“I really believe we will come back strong and not take things for granted, even something as simple as playing baseball.”

Phil Campbell baseball coach Johnathan Raper also had a team that was expected to make a deep run in the postseason.

“I’m disappointed. We wanted to complete the season. We wanted w chance to compete for a state championship. I think we were good enough to do that this year,” said Raper.  “I hate it for the kids. They worked so hard.”

As he thinks on what might have been, Raper said his focus now is to “never take anything for granted. Keep things in perspective,” he said. “Lots of things are worse and more serious than not getting to play baseball.”

“This is a really special group of players,” Raper added. “They like each other, and they like being around each other. They had a special chemistry. They worked on their own when they could have been doing something else like normal teenagers.”

Raper said the good thing for Phil Campbell is his team is still young, “but my three seniors – those guys are not going to get it back,” Raper added. “It’s a blessing to be a part of these guys’ lives.

“I haven’t gotten to talk to the players as a group, but I was mowing the field Thursday, and one of my seniors, Rilan Garrison, was there taking his senior pictures. I tried talking to him, but you could tell he was not in the talking mood. He was really down and out.”

Tharptown coach Brooklyn Clark was just getting started. It was her first head coaching job.

“I’m heartbroken,” Clark said. “I didn’t get to tell my kids goodbye one the ‘last day of school.’ I didn’t get to finish out the season with my team. We didn’t get to have a Senior Night on our home field.

“As a matter of fact,” Clark added, “we only had one home game all year. This is not how it was supposed to end.

“We were supposed to have an area and county tournament.  We were supposed to go to regionals and possibly make a run at state. That was our goal all year long. and now it’s not possible.

“I’m so heartbroken for my seniors,” she added. “They didn’t get to play every possible game they could.

“I am a firm believer that everything happens for a reason. To say I am proud of them is an understatement. I love every single one of these girls like they are my own.”