How Local Athletes and Coaches are Dealing With Coronavirus Impact

By Eric Trent / etrent@chronline.com

The Pe Ell-Willapa Valley softball team and coach Ken Olson were 45 minutes away from boarding a bus Thursday morning to Montesano for a 3:30 p.m. jamboree when Olson got a call on his cellphone. It was the Montesano School District saying the contest had been cancelled.

Olson and his team had no idea of the tidal wave coming less than 24 hours later as Gov. Jay Inslee mandated the closure of all Washington schools Friday afternoon as the state braces for the impact of novel coronavirus.

As of Thursday afternoon, more than 1,500 people nationwide have tested positive for COVID-19, and another 39 have died, according to the New York Times. Three hundred and seventy seven of those cases and 30 of those deaths are in Washington state.

It’s prompted the NBA and NHL to suspend their seasons, along with the cancellation of the NCAA basketball tournaments. MLB is suspending the remainder of its spring training and pushing back opening day two weeks. Centralia College saw its spring sports season come to a halt as the Northwest Athletic Conference suspended all spring sports until April 13.

As the sports world has been flipped upside down the past three days, how are local athletes dealing with these outcomes?

Pe Ell High School

After Olson broke the news to his team that they wouldn’t be playing in Montesano Thursday, he told them to take Thursday and Friday off from practice so everyone could regroup. He sat down and talked with a few of his players who were noticeably upset about not playing.

“They’re a little bit depressed,” Olson said. “We’ll just have to see. It’s crazy.”

The Titans were also planning to play against Auburn Riverside and Lynden at Auburn Riverside High School on March 21, but Gov. Inslee’s closures mean that game will be cancelled, as well. Olson said he’s never seen anything of this scale before.

“Without question, 25 years of doing this at the high school level locally, and never had it,” Olson said. “Not once. This is new territory for all of us.”

Toledo High School

Toledo’s two-sport standout Kal Schaplow was planning to defend her 2B girls javelin state title this spring, but is now worried about having her senior season of track and field postponed or suspended. For her and her senior teammates, this is the final sport they’ll ever play in high school, and for some, their final sport ever.

“It would be so crushing, especially for all these seniors, to have their final year taken from them,” Schaplow said. “And all the work they’ve put in. It’s heartbreaking.”

As news is spreading by the hour on social media of closures across the nation and state, Schaplow and her fellow athletes at Toledo are becoming more and more worried.

“You can hear it in the lunch room,” Schaplow said. “ They’re just scared, and you can tell some people are savoring what they have right now because they’re worried it’s going to be taken away. You never know when WIAA is going to say, ‘That’s it.’”

Schaplow was planning to compete in the now-canceled all-star game Friday night at Centralia College. She was also invited to the all-state game at King’s High School on March 21, but that has been postponed. If that also gets cancelled, Schaplow’s final high school basketball match will have been at the Lower Columbia all-star game on Tuesday.

Her AAU teammates in Astoria, Oregon had their state basketball tournaments completely canceled, as well. She’s hoping, at the very least, spring sports will resume in April or May in time for postseason. But as of now, it’s anyone’s guess as to what will happen in the following days.

Just Down The Road

A half-mile south of Toledo High School on N. Fifth St., Schaplow’s father, Don Schaplow, a Toledo Middle School P.E. and Washington state history teacher, is sitting in his classroom, keeping an eye on the updates.

When Don, who is Toledo High School’s track and field coach, woke up Thursday morning, the NCAA basketball tournament was still a go. Hours later, the national and local sports scene changed dramatically.

“Even a week ago I wouldn’t have seen this coming,” Don said. “I wonder how many of the closures are in response to other closures. I was surprised at the local all-star game cancellation, only because we’re not in that tri-county area with the 250-person gathering (ban).”

Don was planning to see his daughter hit the hardwood two more times in the next week and help her defend her state javelin title. Now, it’s all up in the air. He had hoped some of the reactions wouldn’t have been made so quickly, and that continuing spring sports in some form is still on the table.

“As staff members, surprised at the frequency and how rapidly it’s all occurring,” Don said. “It’s kind of frustrating. A lot of us staff members are kind of waiting, because a lot of the decisions that are made are not made by us.”

He said he hopes the fact that spring sports are all outdoors will be factored into the decision making and, like Kal, would at least return for postseason play.

“A lot of kids have worked many, many years of their lives for their final sports season, and it’s sad if it goes out in a whimper,” Don said.

Winlock High School

Winlock senior Bryce Cline, the 2B Central League boys basketball MVP, was hoping to show off his skills one last time in front of a local crowd Friday night at the Centralia College all-star game. His all-state basketball game next weekend was also postponed.

Cline, who is planning to compete in baseball, track and AAU basketball this spring, is now wondering if his prep career is coming to a close sooner than expected. It’s his first year trying out for baseball since he was a freshman. He was hoping to go out strong.

“Most of the seniors are worried because it’s their last chance to play one of their favorite sports, whether it’s baseball, softball or track,” Cline said.

Cline, who placed fourth last season in the Class 2B high jump with a PR of 6-foot-1, was looking forward to vying for a state title. He also competes in the 4X400 relay and the 200-meter dash.

“I was looking forward to going back to state this year, but if that gets canceled, it’s not going to happen,” Cline said.

WIAA

Whatever happens next with regards to the regular season sports schedules in Lewis County will be at the discretion of the schools, leagues and districts. WIAA only has decision-making powers over the state tournaments. As of Friday, the WIAA is still planning to hold spring sports state championships, which are scheduled for the end of May. They will be working with the districts to figure out how the state field will be determined.

Bigger Than Sports

With an impending postponement or closure of spring sports in the county, coaches and athletes are preparing for what that will mean for them and their teams.

One of Olson’s senior softball players texted him Thursday afternoon asking about the possibility of the entire season being scrapped. Olson didn’t know how to respond. It took him a while to finally text her back.

“It was bothering me,” Olson said.” I just finally told her, ‘I wouldn’t think they’d cancel the whole season, but who would have ever thought the NBA would shut down?”

For Kal, she’s coming to the realization of the possibility she may have put on a Toledo uniform for the last time ever. She understands the concern about coronavirus, but says it’s still disappointing. She was hoping to play basketball Friday night with friends from opposing teams that she’s never played with on the same team. And her track and field career might be finished, as well.

“You always hear people say, you never know when your last game could be as a high school athlete,” Kal said. “I never expected it to be anything like this. I expected it to be an injury, not like a global crisis. I want to still be coached by my dad in the javelin. I don’t want to be cut short of having a chance at another state title. I want to have this experience one last time.”

Olson understands these cancellations are about keeping players safe, but he feels for the seniors around the state that are experiencing this. He, like Kal and Don, is keeping his fingers crossed for a return by postseason.

“It’s all for the best,” Olson said. “It’s not about sports, it’s about saving lives. If it happens, I’ll hate it but I’ll understand it. We’ve got to take care of ourselves and that’s the bottom line. That’s what’s most important, to take care of everybody around us, including these student athletes.”

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