The sign is a familiar sight to those who travel Route 15. The notice on the message board of the Pike Drive-In Theatre is an annual sight during the winter months. Passers-by give it little attention. They know come spring the movies will be back. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for high school spring sports.
It’s been two weeks since what many feared would be the inevitable bad news announcement regarding the cancellation of high school spring sports became a reality. While the collective health of the population is of the utmost concern and understood those involved in the various sporting endeavors have been left trying to answer the ‘what ifs’ of a season that is lost to them forever.
Regardless of the school or location, coaches and players, particularly the seniors, the reaction has been pretty much the same, disappointment and frustration. Ask any coach or player how they feel and the responses are pretty much universal.
The situation at South Williamsport has its own uniqueness where two successful veteran coaches, Tom O’Malley in softball, and Casey Waller in baseball are in their first year in coaching Mountaineer squads that were anticipating successful seasons.
“Since the day I got here the players’ desire, work ethic and attitudes have been great. We have a good nucleus and were looking forward to a very successful season,” O’Malley observed.
“Obviously this has been a huge disappointment to all of us, but it is particularly tough on the seniors. We have seven seniors on the team (Lilly Eiswerth, Mookie Sauers, Sydney Bachman, Hailey Holtzapple, Sarah Sullivan, Haley Neidig and Sami Branton) this year and for a few of them softball was their only sport. In our pre-season workouts, they had been extremely motivated and in the end we are all at the mercy of the Governor and we understand the reasons why.
“They made a lot of sacrifices and dedicated themselves to their senior year. As a senior, you never want to take off that uniform following that last game and for them to never get to put on that uniform is beyond heartbreaking. You never know what life is going to throw at you and we were definitely thrown a curve ball with this one. High school memories are some of the best memories of your life. It is hard to replace those kinds of memories and it is sad that for these players those memories will be about a season they didn’t get a chance to play.”
For the Mountaineers’ best player, outfielder Lilly Eiswerth, the forfeiture of her senior season was particularly devastating.
“I still had hopes that a softball season would be played. At the beginning we all looked at it like we were taking a two-week break. We had a team trip scheduled to go down to South Carolina and we were working hard preparing for it. When we got the news that the season was cancelled, it was terrible. We had put in a lot of hard work from January on and to see it all go down the drain was really heart-breaking, especially for the seniors.
“We thought we were going to have a really fun season. We were excited and thought that we could go far into the tournament.
“During this down time, personally I have been doing the same things that I was doing to get ready for the season. I still hit off the tee. I go thru a work out regiment at home. I go for walks and just try and keep myself busy.
“Looking ahead, I plan to attend Penn State University for liberal arts and media design and hopefully may try and play softball, but we will wait and see what happens.”
For Eiswerth’s teammate, senior pitcher Mookie Sauers, the season’s cancellation was very upsetting.
“I was really upset because we had worked so hard during the pre-season and then to learn that we wouldn’t be getting the opportunity to show how much we had improved was really sad,” Sauers related.
“As a team we thought we would do well in districts and get into the state tournament and things looked good for us. We had worked hard, a lot more of the players were dedicating themselves in the pre-season and once the official practices started everyone was excitedly looking forward to the first game.
“We’ve talked among ourselves since the season was cancelled, especially our seniors and there is a lot of sadness. For most of us we won’t be playing softball in college and looking back to last season and realizing that for many that would be their last softball game. That is really shocking and I don’t think that has set in yet.
“For me it took a lot of mental strength. As a pitcher your preparation is different than the other position players. Softball is my only sport and I was really looking forward to playing this season with my teammates and coach O’Malley.”
Looking ahead Sauers plans on working this summer and hopefully play some travel softball. In the fall she will be attending the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City to study to be a fashion designer.
Waller’s outlook mirrors O’Malley’s regarding the tremendous disappointment experienced by the seniors.
“When the school first closed and the practices cancelled I met with the team and told them how proud I was of the effort they had been showing and figured we would be back on the field at some point and that I would be in touch with them. But as the weeks went by it became more doubtful that we would play. We have six seniors on the team (Luke Winner, Nate Persun, Cole Brewer, Ian Bolay, Dom Harding and, Mike Kemmerer) and my heart goes out to them. In most cases they have been working out since last November in anticipation of their senior year and now that opportunity is lost.
“I’ve been trying to communicate with the guys to tell them that it is ok to experience emotions. It has been a roller coaster. I’ve been sad some days, angry, frustrated and I know they are experiencing those same emotions. I’ve been trying to have them focus on the positive. It is going to get better each day, but this is going to hurt a lot of the guys for a long time. There are strong young men and their parents have raised some good young boys and I am proud to have the opportunity to coach them.
“I’ve coached at Loyalsock and Hughesville and coming to South as a new coach the players embraced me right away. The community has been great to me in my short tenure here. I can’t thank them enough. I am looking forward to next year, but I am hoping that we can get together and play a Blue/White game at some point. After what we have been going through it is important for us to get together as a team to experience some kind of culmination to a baseball season we didn’t get the chance to experience.”
Informally, some of the area coaches have discussed the potential of organizing some type of a summer league to allow their players to experience a level of competition. Whether that is a possibility remains to be seen but that ‘closed for the season’ sign now has a whole new meaning for our high school athletes.