Unease reigns for Southern Arizona's high school athletes, who continue to play — for now (Tucson.com)

Greg Hansen 3.13.2020
student baseball 
Sadly, there has been no time to say goodbye, no time for their seniors to embrace one last at-bat. 
We played 17 precious baseball games my senior year at Logan High School. One was played in snow flurries, another was canceled because of rain and never rescheduled. I would agonize all day, looking out the windows, fearing the Northern Utah rain more than any illness or geometry test.

After the final out of the last game — we beat the Bonneville Lakers on a perfect spring day — I jogged slowly to the dugout, emotional, aware it was the last time I’d ever wear jersey No. 7 for my school.

Remember Senior Day at McKale Center when T.J. McConnell knelt to kiss the “A” at McKale Center? That’s how I felt at Crimson Field 50 years ago. I remember every at-bat of my senior year.

But at least I got to enjoy a full senior year and embrace the last at-bat of my high school days.

Those melancholy feelings were reawakened Friday during a conversation with Salpointe Catholic athletic director Phil Gruensfelder, who spoke candidly about the possibility of high school sports being canceled for the rest of the school year.

“We’ve got a 26-team baseball tournament at Reid Park scheduled next week and we’ve already had teams from Oklahoma, California and Yuma cancel,” said Gruensfelder. “Right now we’re going full-steam ahead, but we’ve been in touch with the Pima County health department. Those folks will make decisions for us.”

Imagine all the high school athletes in the greater Tucson area whose senior seasons are at risk.

Between now and early May, Salpointe has 106 varsity sports events scheduled in baseball, softball, boys and girls tennis, track and field, boys and girls lacrosse, beach volleyball and boys volleyball. If you add freshman and JV sports, the number almost doubles.

There are 27 high schools across Southern Arizona and if you work the numbers it comes out to about 5,500 high school athletes whose precious time as a high school athlete is at risk by the coronavirus and the momentum-gaining cancellation of America’s sporting events.

More than 300 athletes at the UA and about 125 at Pima College have already experienced canceled sports events. Nobody knows how long this unprecedented pause will last.

On Monday, Herman House, athletic director of TUSD’s nine high schools, and fellow officials from the Amphitheater, Tanque Verde, Foothills, Sunnyside, Marana and Sahuarita school districts will be in Phoenix at AIA headquarters to decide if high school sports, 2019-20, will continue.

“We are following the lead of our district leadership by monitoring the situation very closely,” said House. “We will act accordingly to ensure the safety of our students, athletes and our spectators.”

In recent days, Salpointe’s boys volleyball coach Dave Garwacki informed his club that Friday’s trip to the Cougar Invitational at Kellis High School in Peoria had been canceled because of concerns for the coronavirus.

“It changes hourly, but we’re not alone in this,” said Gruensfelder. “My daughter is a school teacher in Washington, D.C., and her school has been shut down. It’s a K-5 school and she is worried about the kids — where will they be able to get lunch?”

It goes far beyond missing a prized baseball game or, as in the case of Salpointe’s boys and girls track and field teams, such things as the UA’s historic Willie Williams Classic, which has already been canceled.

“You control what you can,” said Gruensfelder.

A week ago, defending state softball champion Ironwood Ridge High School traveled to the Tournament of Champions, beating four California schools and others from New Mexico and Nevada. Next week coach Dave Martinez’s powerhouse, led by .538-hitting Arizona-signee Allie Skaggs, is to play three games in the Hamilton Invitational near Phoenix.

But by then it’s possible the final 20 games of Ironwood Ridge’s season will be canceled, and the chance to win a fourth state title in seven years gone.

“The Amphitheater School District continues to follow the guidance from county, state and federal health agencies regarding cancellations,” said Michelle Valenzuela, communications director for the Amphi School District, which includes Ironwood Ridge. “At this point, we are not requiring teams to pull out of competitions, but we are aware that some may choose to do so.”

High school sports are different things to different people.

That was clear Friday afternoon when Palo Verde’s baseball team, losers of 36 consecutive games dating to the 2018 season, arrived at the views-inspiring Catalina Foothills baseball facility with just nine players.

As a PA announcer introduced the nine Palo Verde players one by one — “Zeus, Joey, Andy, Zack. …” — parents of Foothills players hung full-color banners of the Falcons’ 10 senior ballplayers on the fence behind home plate.

I asked if they hang those banners for every game.

“No,” I was told. “It seems likely they’ll postpone or cancel the season, so we’re honoring the seniors today.”

A few minutes later, Marana High School athletic director and dean of students Sarah Whaley told me that all athletic events in the Marana School District had been canceled at least until April 6.

Marana’s baseball team was to have played Sahuarita on Friday, and the Tigers’ softball team had been scheduled to play its final game in the Tucson High Badger Classic.

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