‘A tweet ends my career’: Cancellation of Utah high schools’ spring sports hits seniors hardest

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Cottonwood High School players celebrate their victory over Timpanogos for last season's Utah 5A state baseball title. Utah's spring sports have been canceled this year due to the coronavirus crisis. pitcher Carson Angeroth is mobbed by his teammates after striking out Timpanogos in a 6-5 win during the 5A baseball championship game at UCCU Stadium on the UVU campus in Orem, Friday, May 24, 2019.

Coaches of spring high school sports were already lamenting the fact that their seasons were put on hold due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Their players constantly asked when they’d be able to get back on the field, the track or the court. Seniors hoped to have good final years, and juniors looked forward to an important year in terms of recruiting.

But that was before the Utah High School Activities Association pulled the plug on the spring season, affecting nine total programs including baseball, softball, lacrosse, boys’ soccer and track and field. The move was made in accordance with Gov. Gary Herbert’s decision to extend soft closures of every K-12 school in the state through the end of the academic year.

Coaches and players alike expressed disappointment over not being able to compete for a championship. Seniors, however, are having a harder time with it.

“It’s taking what we [as athletes] love to do, months of hard work and determination — all gone to waste. It sucks,” said Jordan Ware, a senior on the Salem Hills High boys’ soccer team. “And especially being a senior this year, this was my last time ever playing soccer and it’s sad. Wish I could get my senior night.”

For Peter Callahan, a senior baseball player for Judge Memorial High, his season was cut short after just three games — all wins for the Bulldogs. He missed much of his sophomore year with an injury and was looking forward to end his career on a high end. Instead, it ended with UHSAA’s announcement on Twitter.

“A tweet ends my career,” Callahan said.

Levi Wise, Union High’s new track and field coach, said last Monday — a day before UHSAA announced the cancellation — that even if spring sports did resume, it wouldn’t have been the same as before. He expressed a desire to return to play, but said “lives are more important.

Wise also highlighted another consequence of the spring season ending. Junior year for many athletes is vital for the purposes of getting recruited by colleges. Without games, they might be at a significant disadvantage depending on the sport.

But for Brighton High boys’ soccer coach Brett Rosen’s players , recruiting may not be as big an issue. There may be a few players negatively affected, but that’s all.

“College scholarships have been greatly affected by the inability of players to play and coaches to recruit,” Rosen said. “Luckily, soccer players are more heavily recruited during the club season so it won't have a huge impact.”

Critics of the UHSAA’s decision quickly took action, starting two separate petitions to bring back spring sports in some capacity. One petition is seeking 5,000 signatures and reached almost 4,300 as of Sunday. The other petition had almost 4,700 signatures, surpassing its goal of 4,500.

“These sports do not draw thousands together in one confined indoor space,” the second petition reads. “They are sparsely attended, with spectators made of family and friends strewn across entire soccer pitches, ball fields and massive tracks. Surely if the state is considering ways to restart the economic activity in a few weeks, putting as many people back to work as quickly as possible, an abbreviated season for these sports can be reconciled with championships still up for grabs.”

The UHSAA does not currently have plans of making spring sports available during the summer months, said Jon Oglesby, assistant director of the association.

“At this time, our board hasn’t considered or heard any such proposals,” Oglesby said. “With school being in a soft closure for the rest of the school year and for an undetermined time after, there are many things such as facilities and transportation that would be unavailable for education, let alone high school sports.”

Still, some think it’s possible to play spring sports safely because of how they are played.

“Outdoor sports such as softball and baseball could easily still be played with the social distancing of the fans,” said Jayne Hogan, mother of Bingham senior softball player Aubree Hogan. “Lots of areas to spread out. Adjusting game times and allowing minimal contact would be easy. Why rush to cancel sports and school?”

East High baseball coach Wes Mangum said his players have taken the news hard. Two of his senior players didn’t even miss one of voluntary workout, waiting for the day their season might come back.

And while that likely won’t happen for any of the high school athletes in the state, Magnum is trying to find the positive.

“We have faith that we will come out of this stronger,” Magnum said.