MANSFIELD — “It is a strange place we find ourselves,” Norton High softball coach Wade Lizotte said.
Usually, on the first Monday upon the conclusion of winter high school sports, Lizotte would have been behind the school guiding infield and outfield instruction and swings at the plate with the spring sports calendar set to begin with preseason training.
However, in the presence of the COVID-19 pandemic and the cancellation of all academic programs at schools and related school activities, athletes, coaches and players have been placed on hold for the undeterminable future.
“I have so many emotions about this topic — currently we are not planning on getting the team together until April 6,” Lizotte said of the state-mandated ban on quorums.
The MIAA issued a directive Monday that a decision was made to “not allow any sports to start until April 27,” with all seasons to be completed by June 20.
“At that point, we would be hoping at best for a shortened (Tri-Valley League and non-league) season,” said Lizotte. “I can’t imagine a New England spring without spring sports. My seniors have been extremely upset and very anxious. Their hearts are breaking with the idea of not being able to play together one last time.”
It breaks the heart of Foxboro High baseball coach Derek Suess to not have a bat in his hand, hitting grounders and fly balls to his Warriors or throwing batting practice.
“These are definitely tough times with so many unknowns surrounding the season,” Suess said. “We don’t have much control, if any, over setting up practices, cage time, etc. for our players at this point.
“There are so many things out of our control that make this difficult but if I could tell our players one thing it would be to “control what you can control.” They have control over how they make use of these next few weeks in hopes of preparing for a baseball season.
“Although we would love to be starting our season, we just have no control over the situation,” Suess added. “How we respond to this adversity will show who we really are and that’s the biggest life lesson we can get out of this. I would love nothing more than to be with our guys. I know they’ll be alright. We will get through this.”
Bishop Feehan High girls’ lacrosse coach Mike Vitelli has watched his Shamrocks partake in any number of off-season activities during the winter months, only to see none of his prospective players running around McGrath Stadium Monday for the first day of preseason practice.
“Obviously due to circumstances that none of us can control that (season) may be on hold for a bit,” said Vitelli. “I told the kids, there are no problems, only solutions. So at this point, we’ll wait for the people who know more than we do about this to come up with a solution for all teams involved.
“In the interim, as opposed to feeling sorry for ourselves as a program we are taking the opportunity to get better with the extra time that we have. We are all looking forward to being the best version of the 2020 girls’ lacrosse team at Bishop Feehan that we can be!”
Mansfield High boys’ tennis coach Gary Belastock looked at the positives.
“Tennis in March is awful anyway,” Belastock said of the weather conditions.
He had already booked some practice court time for the Hornets at the Brown-Billonne courts in Easton.
“But I also consider the ripple effect,” Belastock noted. “Some kids that are seniors looking for a scholarship somewhere or the kids that are under-classmen, looking to get noticed.”
Norton High track coach Kent Taylor is a member of the Executive Board for Mass. Track and wondered whether there will even be high school spring sports this year.
“I am not feeling very positive,” Taylor said of the season resuming at some point. “I have been hesitant to send anything to athletes or parents in terms of logistics for the season as is has been postponed twice already.”
Norton High, like every other area high school, has set directives such as school grounds being off limits and no captains practices.
“We do not want to make any rash decisions, however, what comes down from the Governor’s office we will have to follow,” Taylor said. “With three weeks already gone from the season, it will most definitely have to be abridged. Even the rescheduling of meets is up in the air due to the season being in limbo.”
It just might be mid-April, at earliest, for games to begin.
“Every time, I hear the state is adding another week (to the no-school policy),” North Attleboro High softball coach Bill Wallace said. “We were planning for the March 30 start, now it’s a waiting game,” with the MIAA taking its directives from Gov. Charlie Baker.
Wallace will remain in touch with his Rocketeers, but with activities cancelled at schools, that includes even “captains practices” and informal workouts and off-site batting cage and training facilities.
“You do all of the preparation stuff and go to (Hockomock League and coaches) meetings and everything is off,” Wallace said.
“In years past, when there was snow and ice on the fields, we could at least do something in the gyms or in the parking lots to try to get ready,” added Wallace. “Now, there’s nowhere for the kids to get together.”
Mansfield High baseball coach Joe Breen was most anxious to begin the spring season in that he was replacing nine starters.
“We graduated 13 seniors, many of which were two or three starters for us, so that’s certainly a big loss to the program,” Breen said.
Breen has a trio of two-year varsity players, but a lot of unknowns that he had hoped to have some answers for over the next two weeks of training.
“I have a great group of kids this season who are consistent workers in the offseason on their own but lots of new faces,” he said. “As you can imagine, we’re all trying to figure out how all of this is going to work, but as we like to say, ‘control what you can control’ so looks like I’m going to have to practice what I preach.
“As of now, the state has taken most of the guesswork out of our hands on limiting gatherings and with the schools closed. There are no planned activities as it is still considered the “off-season.” I was very excited about hitting fungoes listening to the birds chirping at the sunny ball fields of East St.!”
Seekonk High track coach Matt McCartin knows that the Warrior distance runners, sprinters or middle distance runners will take it upon themselves to pound the pavement of roads in town. But, for hurdlers, shot putters, jumpers and javelin throwers, there are no barriers, pits or circles.
“The kids who want to be good will find a way,” McCartin said of alternatives. “Maybe they can just go under the cover of darkness and do things at night,” he quipped. “After a while, all of the kids are going to go stir crazy.”
Attleboro High girls’ tennis coach Bill Reilly already had the challenge of construction of a new AHS and eight courts being reduced to five courts. Practice for the girls’ team would run from 2:15-3:15 p.m., then the AHS boys and girls teams would share the courts from 3:15-4:15 p.m., with the boys then taking over at 4:15 p.m.
“We were going to be there Monday afternoon,” Reilly said, the Bombardiers having lost only one senior to graduation with seven returning veterans. “The seniors were all figuring us to have a strong lineup and maybe put on a show.”
Reilly conducted his “business-as-usual” approach in previous weeks with team meetings before the state, MIAA and city officials put a “PPD” on the season. “With the tennis players, a lot of them take individual lessons, but that is going to come to a halt too,” said Reilly. “It’s not an easy task for a lot of people. Hopefully, we’ll figure it out.”
Not only was the weather forecast for the week favorable and with fields not encased in snow or ice or be virtual quagmires due to wetness, tennis, baseball, lacrosse, track and softball have all entered into temporary hiatus.
“In 10 years of coaching high school baseball, we have never had the nets up prior to the season with the ability to play outside prior to the season and during tryouts and here we are,” offered Bishop Feehan High baseball coach Erik Everton.
“The only thing to do at this point is to get healthy if you got banged up during your winter sport and stay in shape for the eventual start of our season. Unfortunately, it is not Mother Nature holding up the show this time.”