For the first time in nearly two years, I spent the weekend covering high school spring sports. The previous weekend was the end of the third season and football championships, so that was where my mind was at, but this weekend was the first time that I really dipped my toe back in that water.
I’ve got to admit, it was a little bit more emotional than I thought.
Now, was I on the sidelines crying tears of joy? No, of course not, but it was the first time that I truly felt that we had made it through the pandemic. Each of the past few seasons - last summer, fall, winter, and then this third season - we made progress and each resembled the norm a little bit more. However, this past weekend really felt like things came full circle.
I covered lacrosse, softball and baseball, and I didn’t realize how much I missed it until I was down there.
Sure, I covered legion and Little League last year and some other youth and travel teams. For high school, though, this was the first time since June of 2019. Part of me sensed the gap, the other part of me felt as if there wasn’t one at all.
A few months back I made a statement that said that I felt that next fall would be the first season that things were truly, truly back to normal. I stand by that, but considering the spring season is extending until late June, we may be able to see it even sooner.
We’re just about through everything. We still have a little ways to go, but we’ve made it through the worst of it and are quickly seeing things open. Let’s remember to stay safe, be vigilant, and push through these last couple of hurdles. It’s good to be back with a full slate of games and sports.
Now, with that said, one thing that has been every bit as fascinating as I figured it would be is seeing seniors that were sophomores the last time they hit the field, juniors that were freshmen, and sophomores that are just starting to see varsity minutes.
Most kids played their respective sports last summer or worked out regularly during the offseason. It’s not like the 2020 spring being canceled totally prevented them from playing. But for the coaches, a lot of them are playing catchup and just starting to really get to know their rosters. In the games I have seen, some teams still have almost a rotating roster where kids are getting to try a little bit of everything. It’s been interesting.
I can’t say that this has been the case for every team, but in general between the teams that I have covered, the camaraderie and atmosphere is totally the same. The upperclassmen are the ones in control and are leading while the younger ones are following suit. These seniors that were underclassmen the last time they played high school ball don’t see it that way … they understand that it is their team regardless of what happened last season. They paid their dues.
That is so important, especially in school sports. The upperclassmen are the ones with the experience and deserve to be the leaders on the field. It’s good to see them embracing the opportunity instead of being unsure since they did not play last year. I’m sure the coaches have been relieved.
This leads me, well, kind of leads me to my next point.
In the few games I covered last week, the performance that impressed me the most came from Bishop Hendricken’s Ryan Thompson.
The Hawks were in a tight battle against Lincoln and the freshman reliever was called in during the fifth inning to preserve the 4-2 lead. Thompson escaped a jam in the fifth, was lights out in the sixth, and got into some trouble in the seventh but ultimately made it through unscathed to pick up the save.
After the game I asked Hendricken coach Ed Holloway about his freshman, and Holloway credited his maturity and the importance of having him around while he still gets to know his roster. Thompson came on in relief and did the same thing the game prior against North Kingstown as well.
This aside is a long, roundabout way of me saying that this unsettled ground will likely produce some stars that we never saw coming or never would have gotten to see make an impact until later on. The Hawks, like every team, are still working their way through these early battles and are willing to try out anything to get these wins.
So, they have turned to a freshman arm as a relief pitcher in the early going and he has been a big piece to two wins. Teams are going to get to know Thompson fast, and now, they have another four years of having to deal with him.
The whole dynamic has been interesting. Not that I am thrilled, I would have obviously rather seen the kids get to play last season and to continue on the normal path. But, like I have been doing over the course of the past year, I am just trying to find the silver linings when I can. Little nuances like these have kept me going at times.
To wrap it all up. It’s been great to be back out there. I’m looking forward to the next two months, especially when playoff season comes around. The spring season is always the fastest, both figuratively and literally. It will be over before we know it and we will be enjoying the summer.
It was a great weekend of sports. A weekend that, as I said, hit home a little deeper than the past seasons. It will be one of the many instances during this pandemic that I will look back on for years to come.
Yes, I know, I have a flair for the dramatic.