‘We will get through this as a team’

The Mountain Iron-Buhl softball team is just one of many high school sports teams that are facing uncertainty over the future of their season due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Heading into my first season as the Mountain Iron-Buhl Head Softball Coach my thoughts were consumed with practice plans, position battles and parent meetings.

I was also excited about the prospect of coaching my daughter, a senior pitcher who has dedicated her life to the sport since the sixth grade, as she embarked on her final games as a high school player.

One week into the season, everything changed and instead of concentrating on hitting and fielding and bunting and batting, the focus shifted to wondering what is going to happen next.

As of Wednesday, practice is done until at least March 27 and as much as I am holding out hope that the tide will turn in this battle with COVID-19 or the Governor and the Minnesota State High School League will continue to take the wait and see approach, my gut tells me the cumbersome bureaucracy’s at the top of those organizations will shut down schools for good and in turn the spring sports seasons because logistically it’s the easy thing to do.

Or maybe it’s the only thing they can do.

I understand the gravity of the situation – at least how it has been presented to the American public – and I realize a great number of people and business owners are sacrificing a lot as we try to contain this virus and hopefully, in the process, save as many lives as we can.

But still, as a parent of a player on a high school team – particularly a senior – I can’t help but feel frustrated and disappointed.

I’m not alone here - Many of my friends who have high school seniors are besides themselves about their sons and daughters not only potentially losing their final sports seasons but missing out on so many of the important final year school traditions like prom and a proper graduation ceremony.

Some are angry. Some are sad. Some are both and more.

Some just want to know what is going to happen next.

But no one seems to have a good answer and when one is presented, it tends to change within moments.

The unknowns of this situation – and the frustration of not being able to trust the words that come out of our leader’s mouths, or out of the talking heads on our television sets, or the words in our newspapers – amplifies everything.

One bright spot from a coach’s perspective is that in the midst of all the uncertainty and consternation over the past week amongst us adults, the 35 or so girls that make up the Rangers softball program just kept showing up for practice with smiles on their faces.

They also came together as a team in a way I hadn’t expected.

While my coaching staff stood by at times lamenting the coming storm with slumped shoulders, the majority of the girls were on the gym floor giving 110 percent effort and feeding off of each other’s energy.

When we decided to hold the last two practice’s we could this week, the thought was “let’s give them some hope and let them play some ball while they can.”

Afterall, coaching is about the kids, not the coaches, and I’ll gladly sacrifice my time and energy anytime for young student athletes to be able to get in a gym or on a field and play the games they love.

I wasn’t sure what to expect though. I anticipated quite a few no shows in light of the announcement that everything at the school would be shut down by Wednesday.

Instead, it was nearly 100 percent participation on Monday (a little less on Tuesday) and just about everyone there worked as hard as ever. They chose to show up and bring a positive energy to the situation, practicing like their first game was right around the corner.

Even after I explained the situation to them, how we might not have a season, they looked at me like, “come on, coach, let’s get working, we have a section championship to win.”

One varsity player, after missing a few pop flies in the gym because of the lights, didn’t blow it off and say, “what difference does it make, I won’t be here next week,” instead she turned to me and said, “we need to get outside.”

My pitchers hit the practice mounds and two of them were excited to report to me that they had hit new top speeds on their fastballs.

Business as usual.

What an awesome surprise.

And it wasn’t just the softball players giving their all – the MI-B track team was in the next gym running, throwing and practicing with intent and purpose.

At the end of the day, the majority of those student-athletes chose to remain optimistic in the face of adversity and to come together as teams focused on what they could control and not what they couldn’t.

A good lesson for us all.

As far as my daughter goes, she is on her way to Hamline University in the fall and plans to play softball there. If our season is cancelled, and I don’t get to coach her final year, I can hang on to the thought that I’ll hopefully see her play again and to the memories of all the moments I watched her do what she loves on softball fields across the state since the sixth grade.

I know she gave it her all and I was there for the whole ride, regardless of how it ends.

And if Tuesday was our last day this spring, I know I’ll see the rest of my players – minus some of my senior athletes – in June, when we hit the field for some summer ball and find out just how good we really are.

Pretty good, I think.

And in the end will get through this together, as a team.

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