Bio

DON KETCHUM is a native of Phoenix. He was a sportswriter for The Arizona Republic/The Phoenix Gazette for nearly four decades. He covered high school sports on several occasions as well as the Arizona Diamondbacks, Arizona Cardinals and Arizona State sports. From 2008-14, he was a staff writer for AIA365.com, the web site of the Arizona Interscholastic Association.

Monday, March 30, 2020

Athletes mourn the loss of their spring seasons

The moment that everyone feared would happen finally arrived for Arizona’s high school spring sports athletes on Monday (March 30), when the rest of their seasons were canceled by the Arizona Interscholastic Association after an order by Gov. Doug Ducey that will close all of the state’s schools through the end of the current school year as the result of the onset of the dreaded Corona virus.

Xavier students will continue to be involved with Distance Learning via electronic devices, but many of the athletes will have to put their sports equipment away. No competition in beach volleyball, softball, tennis, track and field, or the club sport of lacrosse, governed by the Arizona Girls Lacrosse Association.

But athletes in softball and tennis are working on their skills in classes specific to their sport, with directives passed on electronically by their coaches. The athletes follow the lesson plans on their own.

In a statement released on Monday by the AIA, Executive Director David Hines said, “This is an unfortunate circumstance for all of our member schools, students and coaches. We know this decision was a hard one, but one that was necessary to assist in the well-being of everyone across Arizona. We hope everyone stays healthy and focused on what the next chapter will bring.’’

The XCP Files caught up with a few of the spring coaches on Monday, and all echoed the disappointment shared by all involved in athletics.

“We are starting to mourn,’’ said beach volleyball coach Tim McHale, whose team is the defending state champion and whose program has won state titles in seven of the eight years the sport has been in existence in Arizona.

“I wish I had a solution, but this doesn’t affect just us. It affects everyone in the community, state, country and world. You just want to console them (players).’’

Including team manager Jasmine Knight, who is one of the state’s top indoor players, Xavier has seven seniors.

Another key senior, Abby Converse, who also plays indoor, was accepted to Stanford recently and McHale said the team should be celebrating in person rather than just by the “Zoom’’ function that is used on computers and cell phones. The team had a “Zoom’’ lunch on Monday.
Xavier Prep beach volleyball players and coaches gathered for a computer "Zoom'' lunch on Monday to catch up on all the latest news (Photo courtesy of Anna Panagiotakopoulos).

“She has been a part of volleyball at Xavier for so long. You just want her to be able to end her senior year in the right way. We’ll just have to make the best of it,’’ McHale said.

As an off-campus coach, McHale teaches at a school in the Peoria area and normally does not have some of the advantages that on-campus coaches do. That’s where the “Zoom’’ function helps him maintain contact with his players.

Xavier Athletic Director and Vice Principal for Activities Sr. Lynn Winsor understands the coaches’ and athletes’ feelings.

“All of us involved in Xavier athletics are disappointed that competitive athletics are done for the rest of the year, but at the same time, we believe that the safety of our school community and all those with whom we interact is primary,’’ she said.

“We are saddened especially for our seniors. So many of them have played their Xavier sport for four years and do not get to finish their season. The Xavier Community continues to pray for the victims of the virus and all those worldwide who have been affected by this horrible pandemic. We also hope that soon we can be reunited with our teams, friends and those who are separated from us.’’

Track and field head coach Dave Van Sickle also is disappointed for the seniors.

"I try to imagine what that would be like, working so hard for three years to be prepared and now, nothing,'' he said. "It has got to be a significant loss for them, and they can't really get that back.

"It's a bit strange for me, too. I've done this my entire adult life, starting when I was in high school. You reach this time of year, and now it is different.''

On an even more personal level, the situation for seniors has crept into Van Sickle's home in north Phoenix. His son, Keegan, is a senior at Thunderbird High and was on the rise as a discus thrower. Now, just uncertainty.

Van Sickle said he has reached his limit of yard work the last few weeks but has a hopeful plan to fall back on when the Xavier cross-country runners (he also is the head coach) start the process for fall with informal workouts in May.

Like beach volleyball, the tennis and softball programs figured to make strong challenges for a state championship.

“We were starting a new season, things were looking good and “Bam!’ All of this hit us,’’ said coach Laurie Martin, whose tennis team is the Division I defending state champion.

“There is not a lot you can say. My heart aches for those kids, particularly the seniors. We are staying in touch with the “Zoom’’ meetings and it’s great to be able to see all of their faces. We would like to see them interact with each other and play together. That is why you coach.

“I told the seniors that they will be a part of history forever, with what has happened.’’

Softball was going strong and had an 8-1 overall record after a 2-0 win over Mesa Red Mountain in what would be its final game on March 6.

“The change and disruption in their lives is unheard of, difficult to comprehend,’’ said Bradley Downes, in his second season as the Gators’ head softball coach.

“This is really hard for everyone. I feel bad that we didn’t get to play a full season.

“They are missing out on a lot of things, celebrating their accomplishments, all of the things that come with high school – representing their school with pride and the camaraderie that goes with it.

“In general, you understand the reason for this, and it is beyond our control.’’

The Gators’ last on-field activity together was a practice. On Friday the 13th. In the rain.

Shortly thereafter, the team was due to play its first game wearing its new uniforms, but that did not happen.

Other school activities such as the annual Fashion Show, dances and the annual Prom also were affected. Where graduation fits remains to be seen.

“That’s all part of the high school experience,’’ Downes said. “The prom is a big deal. Those in attendance get to see people dress differently in a way that people have not seen them.’’

Downes also is president of the Arizona Hotshots club softball organization. He is unsure of how the current situation might affect those seasons, including possible college recruiting.

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