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‘Absolutely heartbroken’: Carroll County high school sports world rocked without spring season

The stadium at Westminster High School is largely empty save for a few walkers and joggers Thursday, March 26, 2020. With spring athletics postponed, students and athletes are doing what they can to get outside and keep in shape.
The stadium at Westminster High School is largely empty save for a few walkers and joggers Thursday, March 26, 2020. With spring athletics postponed, students and athletes are doing what they can to get outside and keep in shape.(Dylan Slagle / Carroll County Times)

Any hope of a spring sports season ended Tuesday when Maryland State Superintendent Karen Salmon announced in a State Board of Education meeting that the state is officially canceling any athletic events for the remainder of the school year.

Salmon said that includes all spring state championships. The state basketball tournament that was postponed March 12 is also canceled.

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“The [Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association] will in turn begin focusing all efforts on aligning the return of interscholastic athletics with the 'Maryland Strong Road Map to Recovery’ and the multi-phased approach within each stage of the recovery," the association said in a release.

“The MPSSAA and the Maryland State Department of Education share your collective desire for the return of these highly beneficial educational programs when it is safe for all school communities,” the release added.

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The spring seasons of both the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association and Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland, which supervise private school athletic competition, were canceled April 21.

The decision to cancel spring sports in 2020 didn’t come as a major surprise to Michael Duffy, Carroll County’s supervisor of athletics.

“I think most people were able to see the writing on the wall and saw this coming, so it wasn’t a total shock,” he said. “Some people wanted the decision to be made earlier, some people are glad it took longer. There was a good bit of thought that went into it, there was not a rush to any sort of judgment.”

Duffy said he’d been in contact with his high school athletic directors so they could reach out to coaches, who were then able to communicate with their athletes.

Mike Hernandez said he met with his Manchester Valley softball players Monday night via Zoom, and said he told them he’d be praying for a positive resolution to the spring season. Less than 24 hours later, the Mavericks coach absorbed the reality of the situation.

“Absolutely heartbroken,” Hernandez said. “Heartbroken for all of my seniors of course. Even thinking about all of the seniors in all the spring sports. All the athletes ... it just hurts.”

The Mavs are the reigning Carroll County Athletic League champions, and one of eight spring teams that won’t be able to go after another title in 2020.

Liberty’s boys and girls tennis teams won county crowns last spring, with the boys earning their fourth in a row and the girls their 11th straight. Century’s boys and South Carroll’s girls earned team championships at the annual CCAL track and field meet.

Century won its third straight baseball county title last spring, while Westminster did the same in boys lacrosse. Century also won the CCAL girls lacrosse crown, the Knights’ first outright title in six years.

Coach Becky Groves said she’s expecting a challenge when it comes to keeping her players’ spirits up now that their season is a wash.

“I think it’s going to be a very difficult situation because there is no closure,” Groves said. “It’s very hard to give them closure because we can’t see each other. I’m hoping in the summer we can potentially do something, but right now everybody’s hands are kind of tied so you’re still trying to figure out a way to make it special. But at the same time, you can’t do anything.”

Century's coach Becky Groves greets team before girls lacrosse at Winters Mill, on Tuesday.
Century's coach Becky Groves greets team before girls lacrosse at Winters Mill, on Tuesday.(Bill Ryan / For Carroll County Times)

Winters Mill baseball coach Erik Barnes reached out to his players in the wake of the state’s decision, and his words were shared on social media.

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“To our younger players, this is proof that nothing is guaranteed,” Barnes wrote. “We must appreciate every opportunity that we get to share our love for the sport and high school athletics. The workout sessions, practices, games, and achievements are some of the memories that will last throughout our lifetime. Your preparation for next season begins now and the time will pass quickly so please do not be complacent.”

Spring sports tryouts and practices began Feb. 29, and the first original play date was set for March 20 before the state closed schools. Several teams had already played scrimmages.

Maryland surpassed 20,000 cases of the novel coronavirus Tuesday, of which more than 900 people have died.

As for what’s next, Duffy said the worst thing would be to rush into any further decisions.

“I think we need to let things kind of play out. I feel absolutely horrible for the seniors. Not just senior athletes, seniors in general. My daughter is a senior; I certainly understand their perspective," he said. "But at the same time, if you gave me the choice of dropping a lot of these activities and keeping people safe, or having these activities and putting thousands of people at risk, I’d make the decisions we’ve made every day of the week and twice on Sundays.

“It’s simply not an option.”

Baltimore Sun reporter Liz Bowie and Annapolis Capital sports editor Tim Schwartz contributed to this story.

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