Editor's note: The names of the area's high school spring-season senior athletes can be found in Sunday's print edition. The names were provided by the schools, and only the schools that responded to The Times-Dispatch's request are included.
“You know, coach, if I could just put that uniform on one more time …”
That’s what one of Steward athletics director and baseball coach Bruce Secrest’s seniors told him upon learning he’d lost his final season to the coronavirus pandemic.
This is the first spring that Secrest has not either played or coached for 55 years. He, like so many athletics directors throughout the Richmond area and across the country, have been left consoling players and managing emotions in an unprecedented time.
“I was just so disappointed for our seniors. I know how much work they have put in year-round for this spring to be played,” Secrest said.
“And then they don’t get to cash in on that hard work. So it just broke my heart to the point of tears, I just felt so bad for them.”
But despite the shared remorse, Saint Gertrude AD Fran Pochily suggested that sports have prepared players and coaches affected by the pandemic for this moment.
“This scenario is what sports has trained us for,” she said.
“We go into the world with a sense of flexibility, a sense of knowing that I can get through anything, that it’s going to be OK, that we can have challenges but we’re going to overcome them. That’s what sports teaches us.”
Pochily said 70% of her senior class played a sport this academic year. But those involved in a spring sport were denied their last chance to represent their school by the pandemic. Upwards of 1,000 Richmond-area athletes have faced the same disappointment.
Mills Godwin AD Tom Nadeau said the emotional toll has been felt by players, coaches, parents and administrators alike.
“I have the best job in the world where I get to watch kids do what they love on a nightly basis,” Nadeau said.
“Not to be able to see those seniors be able to do what they love and what they’ve been working so hard for, most of them their entire lives, it’s been a challenge.”
Nonetheless, athletic administrators in central Virginia have done what they could to honor spring sports seniors.
Many schools have done virtual signing ceremonies, team Zoom meetings or nightly senior spotlights via social media. Some have had car parades, with teammates surprising seniors outside their houses with posters and flowers to commemorate their achievements.
St. Catherine’s initiated a social media theme, #itsmorethanaseason, with an accompanying video highlighting student-athletes’ achievements. Meadowbrook athletes received a poster reading “Once a Monarch Always a Monarch.”
Thomas Dale lit up its stadium for 20 minutes on Fridays throughout the spring at 8:20 p.m., or 20:20 military time. On May 22, Dinwiddie had a drive-in “Light Up The Field” event at its athletic facilities where athletes and their families decorated cars and brought noisemakers to celebrate the season.
Thomas Jefferson plans to honor spring senior athletes, with their parents and coaches in attendance, at a home football game in the fall. Cosby hopes to have a socially distant picnic for spring teams and parents during the summer.
Under normal circumstances, some teams would be celebrating state titles now. But in place of the typical mid-June fervor surrounding summer break, many have been left with a renewed appreciation for the sense of community that comes along with the school year and the daily grind of the sports season.
“It comes down to we miss them. We miss the kids, we miss seeing them every day, whether it’s at practice or a game, the highs, the lows of a season,” Nadeau said.
“We wish that they could be out there doing the things that they love and we wish them the best of luck after graduation.”
For Pochily, now is a good time for athletes to evaluate their daily approach, and to value the time they had together.
“We all say to our teammates, to ourselves, you want to give everything like it’s your last day. So it’s a good time to reflect, like, ‘Did I do that?’ ” Pochily said.
“When I look at our seniors I can confidently say yes, that they can be proud of everything that they did, of any moment they were on the field. It’s something you can know going forward and feel good about.”
The Times-Dispatch reached out via email and ran a box in the sports section asking local athletics directors to send in lists of their spring sports seniors in an effort to publish as many of these student-athletes’ names as possible.
Because although the Class of 2020 lost its spring sports season, the players who never got the chance to put on that uniform and represent their schools one last time haven’t been forgotten.