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Western senior athletes, coach demonstrate acceptance after season cancellation

Students, coach look ahead to next seasons

  • 7 min to read
western senior athletes

COMMITTED — (Left to right) Emma Key throws the ball to a teammate during a previous season game. Donavan Shepherd practices his swing on a tee. Kinsey Smith practices her swing on a tee. Trevor White checks out his shot on the green during a previous season match.

With Howard County schools not returning to in-person classes or having spring sports seasons, Western senior athletes and a coach said they were disappointed but are doing their best to remain positive and look ahead.

Emma Key

A first-baseman for the Western softball team, Emma Key said more than anything, not having closure with her teammates has been the worst part of the cancellation of the season.

For years, Key said she and her fellow seniors had been looking forward to participating in one more season together, as well as all of the traditions the softball program had for the senior players.

“Me and my fellow seniors, we all were looking forward to having our last year with [each other], and we really envisioned all these memories happening and us getting senior night and playing that last game of sectionals or regionals or wherever we may be, just all being there. And we have these traditions that we do for our seniors to really memorialize them. We never got the opportunity to do that,” Key said.

Key, who has signed to play softball at Dartmouth College, saw the positivity in how the cancellation will affect her college softball career.

“It gives [the team] a real bond because their season also got canceled. I’ve actually already bonded super close with the girls in my recruiting class due to everyone being in the same boat, our seasons being canceled across the nation. I also bonded with other athletes that are also in my class … I’m actually looking forward to college. I can’t wait to see what our class is going to do … We’ve all lost something, and I’m looking forward to seeing how that’s going to bond us when we all go off to college,” Key said.

While at home, Key has been doing workouts provided by her Dartmouth coaches. Additionally, she goes running and walking with her family and practices hitting and catching to stay in shape for the next chapter of softball.

Key said experiencing the cancellation of her softball season made her realize she should treat everything in life like it’s her last moment. After speaking with her collegiate coach, she learned that it’s best if she focuses on the “certain” and not the “uncertain” aspects of her life.

When out of isolation, Key said the first thing she will want to do is hug her teammates, friends, and family she couldn’t see.

Donavan Shepherd

A catcher for the Panthers’ baseball team, Donavan Shepherd was disheartened to hear the news of the season cancellation, especially after setting goals for himself to set records this year.

Although he was thankful that his baseball career wasn’t over, as he signed to play for Marian University-Indianapolis next spring, Shepherd said missing out on his final high school season still will affect him.

“I’m still going to go there and play baseball, but I would’ve got better throughout this season. Now, I just kind of have to work harder to get better, I guess. I won’t get to see live at bats like I would’ve during the season. So I have to work harder just to get in shape for next season,” Shepherd said.

Shepherd said the hardest part of the quarantine for him was not seeing his teammates, especially during practices. Now that he has to practice at home, it’s been hard not having the other players around encouraging him as they work on skills and techniques together.

Every day Shepherd said he has been throwing a baseball with his brother and hitting in an at-home batting cage.

While going through this pandemic, Shepherd said he has learned not to take anything for granted.

“Don’t take anything for granted. I know that. I was always like, ‘Oh, one more year. Next year I can do it. Next year I can make the North/South All-Star team.’ Now, I didn’t get that chance. So, I’m going to work harder than I did from now on because of his whole experience and it just sucks,” Shepherd said.

When restrictions are lifted, Shepherd said he would like to play a home, inner-squad scrimmage with his teammates so he will have had his final high school game on Western’s field.

Kinsey Smith

A catcher and third-baseman for the Lady Panthers’ softball team, Kinsey Smith said the lack of a final season has “really been kind of hard to even put into words.” While understanding the reason behind it, Smith said having everything taken away so quickly has been difficult to cope with.

“It’s just hard not realizing that last year that all my lasts would be last year. I never would’ve thought my sectional game my junior year would be basically like a senior night for me. It’s just really hard to even kind of process not seeing my team anymore, coaches, and just all these people that have impacted me in huge ways. It’s just really hard with everything being taken away so quick,” Smith said.

Already signed to continue her softball career at Transylvania University, Smith said she felt blessed to have that opportunity, while many other seniors do not.

Even though she misses the games, Smith said not seeing her teammates every day has been the worst part of being ordered to stay at home. She was looking forward to getting to know the underclassmen and having one more season with the girls she’s played with for 10 to 12 years, she said.

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At home, Smith has been going on runs, bike rides, and doing ab workouts. Additionally, she said she has been trying to hit every day in an at-home batting cage, as well as practicing throwing and catching.

Smith said the social distancing has taught her to appreciate and cherish things in the moment.

“I do think going into college, not that I didn’t play every game 110 percent, but knowing that things can be taken away from me so quickly, I’ll definitely appreciate being blessed to play the game I love every day, just appreciating all the different things for granted, just seeing my friends every day or even family members,” Smith said.

When she is able to again, Smith said she would like to get on a softball field and play with some of her teammates and meet up with friends and classmates before leaving for college.

Trevor White

A golfer for Western, losing his senior season was hard for Trevor White, especially after advancing to regionals as a team last year, he said. However, reminding himself that the temporary shutdown was necessary for the safety of the community and nation, White said it made the concept easier to accept.

“Once I sit down and really understand the situation, this is a global pandemic we’re dealing with, something that’s unprecedented. We’ve never really dealt with this. I haven’t in my years at least … I think [the shutdown] is a great thing because people could die. A lot of people could die. If losing my senior year and losing my senior season is going to save hundreds of thousands of lives, then so be it.

“Because 20 years from now when my kids ask me where I was during the coronavirus pandemic because it’s going to be in history books, I don’t think I’m going to care so much. I don’t think I’m going to tell them, ‘Well yeah, I was cheated out of my senior season. It was horrible.’ I think by then it’s going to be like, ‘It was a good thing. It was hard, but it was the right thing,’” White said.

Not only can he not practice the game on school property, but also area golf courses and private lessons have been canceled, he said. However, he has continued to ride his bike, do core workouts, and work on arm strength to keep himself healthy for whenever he is able to pick up a club again.

Although he has committed to golf for IU Kokomo next year, White said he has not been able to sign yet due to the current situation but still has plans to move forward with it.

White called the situation a “wake-up call.”

“Nothing is ever really promised. In the general sense of things, I can’t and anybody really … we just can’t take anything for granted because I obviously took golf for granted. And now that I don’t have it, it’s been tough for me,” White said.

White would like to visit friends and get back on the golf course once the shutdown is over. Additionally, White said his heart goes out to his fellow seniors, families affected by COVID-19, and medical workers.

Coach Gary Jewell

As the track and field coach for the Western boys, Coach Gary Jewell said the cancellation of the spring seasons caught him by surprise. The day before the postponement, Jewell said he was ready to take the team on its second indoor meet of the season.

“All of a sudden, it’s like full-stop. And then it was like, now what? And then [officials] announced that they were closing the schools the following Monday. But there was still the possibility of having some type of a season starting in May, which it would’ve been truncated. It gave us something to shoot for, to try for. It gave us something to focus on. And then when it became obvious that we weren’t going to have a season at all, it was kind of a let-down,” Jewell said.

When the season looked like it may be interrupted, Jewell said he put a workout plan together for all his athletes, ensuring the throwers had equipment to practice with and the sprinters and runners had adequate workouts. Although meeting with athletes was not permitted, Jewell still communicated with the team via technology.

However, within the next couple of weeks of that, all spring seasons were canceled.

“It’s kind of unprecedented. We’ve had meets that have been canceled or postponed because of bad weather. But I’ve never seen a season get canceled because of a pandemic. It’s just kind of a new situation for everybody, I guess. It caught us by surprise, but the social distancing I guess is the right thing to do,” Jewell said.

Typically, Jewell puts his athletes in a “summer mode” after track season is over; however, he said he was unsure of when this will be allowed given the current situation of the athletes having no season but still having to complete school for the semester.

Even though Jewell did not have the opportunity to have a call-out meeting with the middle school athletes, he said he still will be contacting those interested in being on the cross country and/or track teams next school year.

Jewell said he felt bad for seniors Hunter Cottingham, Noah Stranahan, Dominic Bauer, and Paxton Miller, who all had promising potential to win some individual titles for themselves in their events. Having high expectations for the season just to have them completely unmet has been difficult, he said.

However, Jewell encouraged athletes to try and look at the situation in a positive light.

“I would tell everybody that there are a lot worse things that will happen to you than losing a season. And there’s a lot greater things that will happen to you than winning a race, I would hope. You’re a high school student for four years, but you’re an adult the rest of your life. If you spend the rest of your life looking back to when you were 17 years old, then that’s not good. You need to have higher expectations.

“It’s just a bump in the road. You have to look at it that way, I guess. It’s a minor inconvenience in the road of life … You can’t let one thing like this dictate the outcome of the next 30 years,” Jewell said.