College signings are always special for high school seniors, but many now won't get that chance after a cancelled spring season put a damper on their attempts to get recruited.

The decision by the VHSL to cancel the high school spring sports season due to coronavirus concerns was first met with heartbreak, but then with questions.

Because not only would the high school senior athletes not get a chance to compete, play alongside their friends, and wear their school’s uniform again, but some needed this final season to continue working towards a dream of playing in college.

“It’s definitely shocking and really just sad for the kids who have put in four or five years of hard work and didn’t get that last opportunity to showcase their talents and set PRs and school records and regional qualifications and all-state honors,” said Bassett outdoor track coach Kevin Underwood. “All that kind of just gets wiped off the books, especially for the seniors.”

Local coaches spoke with the Bulletin about what the cancelled season means for players’ hopes of getting recruited, and what they hope to do to celebrate their seniors’ accomplishments.

Recruiting trail

Underwood said that seniors made up a “good little chunk” of his team this season, all of which have been with the program since middle school.

Some had already committed to run in college, some were close to deciding, but others were hoping to use this final season to get their times down and slide in for colleges still looking to finalize their rosters for next year.

The NCAA enacted a dead period for all college recruiting until April 15, which means no athlete can go on any official or unofficial visits, though coaches are still allowed to speak to them via phone calls and text messages.

Underwood said without a full season of work and times to go off of, college coaches will have to look at this year’s seniors in a different way. He has ways of getting in touch with coaches via email or text to see what is available, but he said if an athlete hasn’t made prior connections to a coach at this point it can be tough.

Magna Vista softball coach Brian Brinegar and Bassett baseball coach David Cunningham both said they had athletes who were getting looks from some NCAA Division III schools and Patrick Henry Community College, but without actually being able to come see an athlete in action it’s hard to make an impact on recruiters.

“From what we’ve been told, the video kind of opens the window of communication, but of course they want to come see you play,” Cunningham said. “I don’t know how that will play out for them.”

“I’m just hoping and praying that this all gets under control and they can maybe play travel ball this summer and just maybe be able to walk on next year,” Brinegar said. “As far as probably getting scholarships to go and play their freshman year, the chances of that happening is going to be very slim because, where the NCAA has granted the spring athletes another year of eligibility, I feel sure if any of the colleges had any scholarship money left the seniors that are going to be coming back will be getting that money.”

The NCAA announced they would offer an extra year of eligibility to all college athletes whose seasons were cancelled this spring, though as of yet the organization has not promised an increase in the number of scholarships.

Martinsville’s outdoor track team had one female athlete who, after excelling in indoor track this winter, had high hopes for the outdoor season.

“She was talking about possibly hoping she could get a chance to earn a scholarship or even get a walk-on opportunity,” said Martinsville outdoor track coach Kelvin Jackson. “She does want to continue to run after high school.

“This spring was going to be her chance to shine. … She at least was going to have the opportunity,” he added. “That opportunity is gone now.”

Jackson said his hope is that he can send colleges her times from indoor track and that stands out enough.

Next season

The seniors are the first athletes coaches thought about when news of a cancelled season was announced, but unlike in college where players can get an extra year of eligibility, high school is only four years, and the underclassmen will never get this season back.

Development-wise, Underwood said it will be obvious who was able to work during this break and who wasn’t.

“Especially in running, each season kind of builds on the next in that development that you’re getting,” he said. “Unless they‘re going out individually and doing the work it’s definitely going to be a difference maker and you’ll be able to see who’s not putting in the work and who is.”

Underwood worried that by him not being able to use this spring to recruit runners for cross country in the fall he won’t have as many come out for summer workouts, whenever those are allowed to begin.

“It’s going to affect us going into next year too… We have a meeting for cross country and need to start summer conditioning. All that is up in the air right now. I can’t do anything,” he said. “Normally during the summer we’ll have 40 or 45 kids... That’s going to definitely hamper it for the short term.”

Other coaches said as soon as they get the green light they plan to have athletes back on the field together. Right now, the VHSL has put coaches in a dark period for the initial two week school closure that was set to expire at the end of this week, and coaches can’t have any communication with players.

“I’m waiting to hear from my athletic director so we can say, ‘O.K., when the curve on this thing starts breaking even and it’s safe can we get back out and at least start working on something for next year?’,” Cunningham said.

Cunningham said he knows of travel baseball tournaments close by that happen during the summer, and said he wouldn’t be against putting his team together for one or more of those, just to get playing time under their belts. Many of Bassett’s baseball players, too, play American Legion baseball, which as of Tuesday hasn’t cancelled anything for the summer.

Honoring the seniors

Every coach who spoke with the Bulletin said they have had initial thoughts of putting together some sort of way to celebrate their seniors this season given those players won’t have a senior night.

Some said that celebration could come in the form of possibly playing a game or just having a special banquet. It would depend on what the schools would allow, and how long the coronavirus quarantines last.

“If everything gets cleared up before summer… I may try to get my team together and let them play a travel ball tournament together just to let them have one last game or two together,” Brinegar said.

“We always have an end of season get-together and cookout and we always give our seniors plaques and stuff like that as a sendoff so maybe we can do a little something extra for them this time since they didn’t get to play,” Cunningham said.

Nothing could make up for a lost season, though.

“It’s just bad for the kids, they don’t get a chance to make all-district, they don’t get a chance to make all-region, they don’t get a chance to go to regionals as a team, or even states. It’s just a lot taken away from those kids. A lot,” Brinegar said.

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