Students Reflect on IHSA Sports Shutdown

Friday, March 13 was arguably the most memorable day of the school year. The eerie date proved to be fitting of the circumstances as the entire country was in a frenzy in response to the global pandemic known as COVID-19. Schools were temporarily shut down and lockdowns were put in place. But with these measures only being temporary, the early end to senior years was not originally anticipated.  The opportunities held within sport seasons were destroyed and final opportunities to compete were taken before the season could even begin.

Students all over Illinois were told school was to be solely online instruction for the final two weeks of March. With most students in need of a break, many embraced this as an opportunity to catch up on both work and sleep. Spring sports were also suspended until further notice, but most were optimistic of a May 1 return or even a possible season in the summer. But as confirmed cases of COVID-19 increased, chances at a return to in-person academics or athletics looked slimmer each day. A shelter-in-place order went into effect beginning on March 21  in Illinois and was to be lifted on April 6. However, when the original order was extended until April 30, and again until May 28, Illinois governor J.B. Pritzker announced the cancellation of all in-person instruction for the remainder of the 2019/2020 school year. Seniors were left with shock and heartbreak knowing no final goodbyes would be issued. With everyone hurting, a unique sense of pain was felt by all spring sport athletes.

The Fenwick girls water polo team has always been a force to be reckoned with throughout the IHSA. As nine-time state champions, the girls found themselves in their longest drought since the program’s first trophy back in 2004. With the last state victory being in 2016, the Class of 2020 was determined to not be the first class of girls from Fenwick to graduate without a state title. After a devastating loss in the state quarter-final to cap off their 2019 season, the girls were feeling more motivated than ever. “After ending last season with an upsetting loss, we were all so ready for this new season” stated senior Kassy Rodriguez. The team had been training since the fall, grinding through preseason workouts every weekend since the conclusion of swim season. “Water polo is something I cherish with my whole heart and to not have a season is beyond upsetting especially when we had big goals and worked so hard in the preseason” Rodriguez added.

But the girls were not only feeling robbed of their hard work, but also of their community. “It really hurt when the IHSA cancelled spring sports. I miss my teammates terribly and the Fenwick community that always supported us” said senior Tegwyn Hollenbach. The passion, the community, and the element of family, were what these girls cherished the most throughout their high school years.

While a state trophy would have been nice, they acknowledge that was not their only motivation. Senior Xonhane Medina summed up the team dynamic perfectly: “Although this year would potentially have been my fourth year attending, my goal never included the state tournament. Winning is a state of mind. With the little time we had to practice together, we had a winner’s mindset everyday. I could ask for the chance to win a state championship, but being part of a team that practices with the mindset of a champion was more than a blessing and more than any trophy of hard work.” The girls lost their final opportunities to play alongside each other as high school teammates and never had the opportunity to show off that winner’s mindset as they were not able to squeeze in even one game. They were left unsure of what the 2020 season could have had in store for them.

The Friars’ girls’ water polo team was not the only team hurting upon hearing this devastating news. The Fenwick Boys’ Tennis Team was looking for another successful season after finishing 15th in state to conclude the 2019 spring season. To cap off the season, then senior Carlos Gutierrez and then junior Ryan Dunlap finished 9th in state as a dynamic doubles duo. The two then went on to be named to the second team all state. But Gutierrez and Dunlap were not the only Friars to find success at the state tournament. Then junior Pierce Butler was also a state qualifier for singles. Despite losing a strong senior class, the 2020 season was still looking extremely promising for the boys.

This letdown was not just devastating to athletes. Coach Gerard Sullivan reflected upon this “lost” season: “If anyone is set in their ways, it is veteran coaches who have a seasonal system in place. So for us older coaches it was really difficult to step back and let go of the team and the season: “The shut down came when our team was just days away from our opening meet, so we were in the acceleration phase of getting tough physically and mentally for competition. To have the engine shut off when you are accelerating is very frustrating. I kept hoping for some kind of season for weeks.” Coach Sullivan acknowledged the necessity of this lockdown and tried to look upon it in a more positive way: “Everyone who comes out the other side of this pandemic can claim the “undefeated” title.” But this “undefeated” title was not enough for the season to be fulfilled. Junior Sam Sikora proved this early end to the season was devastating not just to seniors or coaches: “We were excited about the season and were ready to prove ourselves this year. Next year’s road to state is going to be an exciting one.” With the question of what could have been forever in the air for the boys, they must continue moving forward and looking onto next season, no matter how difficult that could be.

Just like both the tennis and water polo teams, the girls’ track and field season enjoyed an extremely successful 2019 season-theirs being full of firsts. To conclude this season, they were sectional champions for the first time in school history, and they won their first track championship at the Sullivan Invitational. To add onto their past running success, the girls cross country team made their way to an overall fourth place finish at state in the fall. Eager to keep this momentum going, the girls track and field team was ready to make some noise this season. Junior Delaney Seligmann described the moment she learned of this shutdown: “Everyone was either in disbelief or numb once the news came out. It was hard to imagine all the memories that were not going to be made.” Seligmann added in her concerns for what the next running seasons will bring and how her lack of preparation might affect her: “I was really worried because I had big plans for the track season. I was trying to wrap my head around what the cancellation might mean for the summer and fall.” With no state or sectional runs this year, it will be very difficult for spring sport athletes to get their names known to college recruiters, and they could find themselves feeling more out of shape than ever. But, as Seligmann pointed out, the memories everyone will miss out on are even greater.

Whether it be in the pool, on the tennis court, or on the track, athletes all across the country are missing out on their final moments to compete. For some, it is just a goodbye for the remainder of the school year. But for others, it is for the rest of their high school careers. No matter what it is, the price of even a singular missed season proves to be tremendous.