‘It’s crazy:’ Uncertainty reigns as HS sports teams head into coronavirus break

The air of uncertainty in the McGill-Toolen baseball dugout Saturday afternoon at Mary G. Montgomery was clear.

The reigning Class 7A champion Yellow Jackets split a planned doubleheader, rallying to beat Mary G. Montgomery before losing to UMS-Wright.

The scores weren’t the story on this beautiful day, though.

“It’s crazy,” McGill senior Jacob Huff said. “We could go from winning the state championship last spring to having our season end against UMS-Wright in a March game at Semmes the next year. It’s hard to wrap your mind around.”

Alabama High School Athletic Associated executive director Steve Savarese mandated Friday night that all sporting activities in the state be suspended following Tuesday play. That came after Gov. Kay Ivey announced that all K-12 schools would close at the end of Wednesday in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

For many school systems, play will be halted after Saturday’s action. Mobile County Public Schools made that choice Saturday, athletics director Brad Lowell said.

“I talked to our superintendent (Chresal Threadgill) about it, and we think it’s just the right thing to do,” Lowell said. “We’re just going to take the necessary precautions and hope things are a lot better and clearer in early April and go from there.”

Catholic school officials made the same choice for McGill-Toolen and St. Michael on Friday. UMS-Wright’s athletic teams were playing their final games and matches – at least for now – on Saturday as well. Baldwin County also ended play after Saturday.

“I told our guys last night that all we could do, all we could worry about, is what is in front of us,” said UMS coach Kevin Raley, in his 32nd year of coaching. “I told them, ‘We have a doubleheader tomorrow (Saturday) against two good teams. That is all you need to think about.’

“They came today for BP, and no one really said anything about it. I feel real confident that coach Savarese and those guys will have a good plan if we can get back April 6 or whenever.”

Players clearly didn’t know what to expect, especially the UMS, Mary G. Montgomery and McGill-Toolen seniors. Opposing players hugged after UMS defeated McGill-Toolen as if it was the end of the season.

“I’ve heard a lot of different stories about this, that and the other,” UMS-Wright senior outfielder Richard Brinson said. “I’m just trying to focus on what we can control, and that’s being ready to play right now.”

McGill parents took pictures of their team and coaches and separate photos of the 11 seniors on the team following the UMS loss. Just 10 months ago, the Yellow Jackets knocked off Bob Jones in the Class 7A championship series in Montgomery to win the state title.

That seems ages ago now.

“It’s really a weird feeling,” McGill coach Tim Becker said. “We are only in the middle of March. We just played a doubleheader on a Saturday. We’re only 11, 12, 13 games in, and we are out there congratulating each other. We may not play again. It’s disappointing, but we will re-evaluate on the 6th and go from there and hope and play everyone is safe and we can resume play eventually.

“It’s definitely disappointing to think we might not be able to defend our title.”

Brinson expressed similar concern. He has three state championship football rings but has yet to win a baseball title. He is thinking this could be the year.

“If this is it, I would say I wouldn’t be satisfied, especially with baseball not being able to win the state championship yet,” he said. “If they just call the season that would really be frustrating. I’d really like to win with this group. I think we’ve got the talent to win a state championship.”

MGM coach Barry Hightower’s team is off to one of its best starts in several years and was ranked No. 9 in the first ASWA Class 7A poll last week. The Vikings have nine seniors on the roster. Hightower said he could not talk about the effects of the pandemic without prior approval from MCPSS officials.

Savarese said Friday that the AHSAA would reevaluate health conditions at the end of the 2.5 week school closure and determine the status of spring sports championship play.

The baseball playoffs were originally scheduled to start April 17-18 for Class 1A-6A teams and April 24-25 for 7A. The state tournament was scheduled for May 11-16 in Montgomery.

“I’m not going to tell them this is it,” Raley said of his team. “We’re going to prepare in our minds like we are going to finish the season at some point. If that is not the case, we will worry about it then.”

And in the meantime …

“Wait and pray,” Huff said.

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