There was at least a glimmer of hope the 2020 Florida high school spring sports season would resume, even amid concerns about coronavirus disease-2019 (COVID-19).
But, optimism vanished when the Florida High School Athletic Association (FHSAA) on April 20 announced it would cancel all FHSAA-affiliated events.
The cancellations include the state series and championships events, for spring sports.
The statewide sports organization also announced no additional eligibility will be granted for spring sport athletes, including seniors, “under the guidance of the Florida Department of Education regarding grade level retention, and upon review of Florida Statutes and FHSAA Bylaws.”
And, just like that, high school senior athletic careers have come to an end.
It happened months sooner than expected, with no clue for athletes that a game, match or meet around mid-March would officially be their last.
The reality has left many local senior athletes feeling dejected, including Sunlake High’s Gianna Levy.
“It was really hard on me,” said Levy. “I cried. To be honest, I cried a lot.”
The prep track and field season offered Levy a final chance to boost her stats and times, to get on the radar of NCAA Division I college programs, as a heptathlete. She’s still holding out hope of being able to compete on the AAU (Amateur Athletic Union) circuit this summer to get those college looks, but even that’s no guarantee.
“It definitely is really taking a really big toll on me,” Levy said. “This was a lot of people’s out ticket (to college) and now we don’t have that out ticket.”
Levy was only able participate in a couple track events before the varsity season came to a screeching halt. She was nursing a hip injury, which arose in February after she won a state title in girls weightlifting.
Though she’d already been a three-time state track and field qualifier and holds the school’s 400-meter dash record, Levy was dogged to put forth a banner senior campaign. “I just had so many goals in mind,” she said.
Other seniors had similar ambitions for their high school swan song.
Land O’ Lakes High senior Courtney Piltaver is a two-time Sunshine Athletic Conference East Girls Tennis Player of the Year. She was poised again to shine in her final high school tennis season, coming off a district title and state finalist.
“I was pretty upset because it was my senior year, and it really sucks that I didn’t get to enjoy the full season with my team and my coaches, and kind of just close out,” said Piltaver, who’s signed with NCAA Division II University of Montevallo in Alabama.
The tennis standout added that not having the typical ceremonial senior night celebration, “was kind of heartbreaking, because that was something I was really looking forward to since my freshman year.”
Senior infielder Loryn Finn was in the midst of her best hitting season on the Wiregrass Ranch High softball team, sporting a .360/.467/.440 slash line through nine games.
The team captain also was chasing the 100 career hit milestone — a possibility with 18 regular season games remaining on the schedule, until athletics activities were scrapped.
Finn won’t be playing college ball. She hasn’t quite come to grips that a March 11 loss to Wesley Chapel High is perhaps the final time she’ll pick up a bat, ball and glove competitively.
“It’s definitely hard. I’m kind of in shock,” Finn said, bluntly.
Aside from game action, Finn still longs for those last few “bus rides to games, and just jamming to music with players and teammates.”
With a tinge of despair in her voice, Finn labeled her four-year softball experience as “just always been fun.”
Wiregrass Ranch assistant softball coach Tyler Finn feels for his senior daughter and the many other players on the team: “It’s really just not the seniors, it’s freshmen, it’s everybody. It’s tough on them, too. It affects every player, all of them; their season was cut short.”
He also observed his daughter’s high school athletics career coming to an abrupt halt.
Besides softball, Finn was a three-time All-Conference golfer: “She’s gotten to the point where she just wants to get into college and get the education going. She had a really good high school softball career and golf career. …She’s going to miss those kids that she played with since she was little — that’s the hard part.”
Though the traditional season is done, the assistant coach is looking for some way to hold a final showcase in the summer that would bring together various senior high school softball players countywide, assuming restrictions on parks and gatherings are lifted.
“The kids deserve it,” he said.
‘I knew it was coming’
Back on March 31, the FHSAA issued a statement that left open the possibility of a spring sports season, saying they could run from as soon as May 3 through June 30.
The FHSAA also had indicated if a spring sports season is canceled altogether, it was working on a solution to create additional athletics eligibility for students who were unable to participate.
FHSAA-sanctioned spring sports include baseball, flag football, lacrosse, softball, tennis, track & field, boys volleyball, water polo and boys weightlifting.
However, as days and weeks pressed on, many saw the writing on the wall that spring sports would not return this year, due to the pandemic.
“I knew it was coming. I didn’t want to admit it to myself, I didn’t want to accept it, but I knew it was coming,” said Academy at the Lakes (AATL) varsity baseball coach Ken Akins.
“Once the FHSAA said, ‘OK, we’re thinking about extending it into summer and deep into June,’ there was a little bit of hope there, but once you get into June you start messing with all the travel sports — baseball and softball are huge in the summertime.”
Academy at the Lakes athletic director Tom Haslam offered a similar take on the FHSAA’s decision: “We kind of knew this was coming, but we hated to hear the actual directive.”
He added: “It’s understandable, they have to do it, so we don’t disagree with it, we expected it.”
The directive came at a time when multiple AATL programs were hitting their stride.
The AATL baseball team was on its best start in program history, already matching its win total from 2019 — thanks to contributions from four seniors.
The school’s boys tennis team, meanwhile, was expected to contend for a state championship, like the prior season.
Of course, the FHSAA’s salvo wiped out the Land O’ Lakes-based private school’s softball, track and field, and boys weightlifting teams.
All told, there were 17 seniors among those five teams.
“It affects everybody’s season,” Haslam said, “but the seniors, you really feel for it.”
He added, “It’s not just athletic seniors, but seniors in anything. You’re talking about proms and special events that just aren’t going to happen. It’s just sad. Sad’s the best word I have for it.”
Though much attention has been brought to how this year’s seniors are affected, and rightly so, the longtime athletic director also believes the canceled spring season could have major ripple effects for juniors looking to get recruited by various college programs.
Haslam put it like this: “It hurts a lot of the juniors, because not only are they putting stats on paper, but they’re also missing workout time, and it’s going to be hard to develop their skills as normal, because they can’t get in the cages and gyms, and there’s no spring ball, and there may not even be travel ball in the summer.
“It’s pretty far-reaching, so it doesn’t just affect seniors on that level. You can’t even go out in a park and shoot hoops,” he said.
Published April 29, 2020