All Matt Burgess can do right now is hope for the best, and that comes naturally for the Mars Hill softball coach.
“Everybody will tell you,” he said Wednesday, “I’m an eternal optimist.”
Optimism is under fire these days, tested by a worldwide coronavirus pandemic that has within the last week triggered a dizzying list of cancellations, postponements and changes to daily life in America.
One of those changes is the break from high school sports, which will not be lifted until at least April 6.
In addition to games being cancelled, high school teams in Alabama are not allowed to practice or work out together.
It’s effectively an unplanned dead period for high school teams. Though there’s no guarantee the season will resume, athletes have to assume it will and need to be ready for that day.
“We can’t get together with them. They’re on their own completely,” Rogers coach Scott Mitchell said Monday. “So, we’ve asked them to keep themselves in shape and do the things on their own that they can do. That’s all we can do. That’s all anybody can do. We’ll abide by it and do our part.”
That would be challenging enough if everyone knew a specific date the season would resume and knew there would be playoffs, but that’s not the case.
Mitchell said even the people who will decide whether the season resumes or not probably don’t know what to expect in the next two weeks.
“We’ve told (the players) that we anticipate that we will be able to play,” Mitchell said. “You have to. You can’t take the approach ‘It’s probably over’ and then they just lay around and don’t do anything.
“We’re encouraging them and telling them to anticipate that we’re going to play, expect that we’re going to play, and we’ll see what happens.”
Florence football coach Will Hester tweeted out a workout plan for his players Tuesday morning and on Wednesday morning he tweeted a second workout plan with different exercises. Examples included jumping jacks, wall sits, calf raises, running in place and sprints in the street.
“A person is defined by what you do when no one is watching,” Hester wrote in Tuesday’s workout plan post. “When we get back together it will be easy to see who worked and who didn’t! Use this time to concentrate on you! God Bless and Go Falcons!”
Burgess, the Mars Hill softball coach, said people tend to mature quickly in adverse situations like this one with the coronavirus.
“They understand softball is not the most important thing in the world right now,” Burgess said of his players.
But amid particularly negative circumstances, Burgess wants the Panthers staying positive and staying in shape.
“When we come back, we’re going to come back and we’re going to be ready,” he said.
Three of the team’s seven seniors – Kylie Thigpen, Hannah Henry and Erika Mitchell – have started for the team since seventh grade.
“They don’t know what it’s like not to make the state tournament,” Burgess said.
But as the No. 1-ranked Panthers played a tournament this past weekend, cancellations happening all around them, it became apparent the chance to return to Montgomery might be out of their hands.
“I think it was kind of hard to believe that this was actually happening,” Thigpen said.
Thigpen is the team’s centerfielder and caught the final out of last year’s Class 1A state championship win over Brantley in Montgomery.
The team is 12-1-1 and hoping for a chance to defend its state title.
“I think we’re very eager,” Thipgen said. “Our assistant coach Mollie Mitchell sent us this link to at-home workouts.”
Thigpen said there’s a field behind her home and she might ask her dad to hit her some balls so she can practice fielding.
Burgess discouraged the players from going to a gym because it’s an enclosed space, but he said most of the players have a Bownet they can hit into to keep their swings sharp.
“They ought to come back looking good,” he said.
Wilson baseball coach Warren Fowler knows how badly the Warriors (10-2) want to make a deep run in the Class 4A playoffs.
“These are the type of kids who throw on their own, they hit on their own, they don’t have to have a coach there with them. They work so hard. And I have no doubt that they’ll stay in shape.”
“ … I know they’re going to do the right things because they know – if we’re able to come back out of this – we’re a very good baseball team.”