Derby High School coaches participated in spring team photos understanding two realities.
The growth and concerns over COVID-19 had led to cancellation of state basketball the day before (March 12). How that would affect their sports was unknown at the time, but it was an inescapable thought. That afternoon, districts statewide began cancelling activities and practices through their upcoming Spring Break.
Four days later, Governor Laura Kelly issued an executive order for all K-12 schools, inevitably cutting off the spring season for all sports.
“I didn’t expect that [picture day] would be the last day we’d be around each other,” soccer coach Paul Burke added.
It set off a tidal wave of emotions for Kansas high-school athletes, seeing their season called off before it even began. It struck an even deeper chord for a senior class that saw events beyond athletics taken off the calendar.
While it may only take 10-15 minutes for a Senior Night ceremony, Derby coaches now more than ever aren’t underestimating the impact of these moments.
“I’ve talked to my senior girls about it and they were crushed,” swimming coach Jimmy Adams said. “I don’t know how else to say it. They just had their senior year ripped out from underneath them.”
Looking for ways to possibly extend into the summer, it wasn’t a decision taken lightly by the staff of the Kansas High School Activities Association.
“The original plan was to incrementally move forward and make decisions weekly to monthly,” KSHSAA executive director Bill Faflick said. “When the governor came out and said we’re done through May 29, it was absolutely a decision that impacted our programs.”
Austin Wuthrich was promoted to head coach of track and field after Mitch Pontious resigned to take an administrative role at Derby Middle School.
The shock and awe of the decision certainly leads to the realization that there would be no state track and field meet. With all Kansas classifications at Cessna Stadium, it regularly brings 15,000-20,000 fans together to celebrate these athletes.
Unfortunately, it also put a halt to a girls roster that had the athletes to compete in the upper echelon of Class 6A.
“For the seniors, there isn’t a whole lot we can tell them,” Wuthrich said. “It’s a sad deal. The state track meet is very special … for the young kids, it’s about embracing and recognizing that we have it really good in this country and in this state. I hope they really appreciate the things we have.”
While there won’t be fans congregating on the Wichita State campus, Wuthrich hopes his athletes understand the bigger picture in play.
“It’s one of the great things about sports anyway,” he said. “You’re going to face adversity, but you have to have courage and be able to persevere. At the end of the day you have to hope it’ll get better.”
Much like his peers, Derby baseball coach Todd Olmstead has had struggles wrapping his mind around the news. From losing that time to his players to now working outside his classroom, the longtime coach said it’s a difficult adjustment.
“I don’t have a job to go to every day and I don’t get to see [my players] anymore,” he said. “I’ve cleaned my house and right now I’m worried about whether or not my daughter can go graduate.”
The cancellation also brought a bitter end to the career of one Derby’s best pitchers in recent memory.
Grant Adler, who was one of three seniors and will also pitch at Cowley College in 2021, was set to return as the staff ace this spring. However, he’ll now turn his attention toward his college career after going 3-4 with 67 strikeouts and a 1.17 ERA as a junior.
Softball coach Christy Weve was preparing her roster for a 10th-straight trip to state. She also had three seniors on her roster that have each signed to play in college, including Alexis Enslinger (Northern Oklahoma CC), Mariah Wheeler (Rockhurst) and Halle Rico (Southwestern).
“When the news first came out, I felt sick to my stomach,” Weve said. “These kids work so hard and their senior year is one of the biggest highlights they work for. Knowing how successful we could have been again … I understand why [the decision was made], but it doesn’t make you feel any better.”
Weve said that she has seen some of her former players reach out to this year’s roster, but also understands that it has put a dent in their careers collegiately.
With the spring season being cancelled and the unknowns circling practice time or summer tournaments, Weve said other questions arise around the development of her roster.
“If I know anything about these young ladies, even if it affects their summer, they’ll get out and do something on their own,” she added.
Once the news broke from the state, Burke sent out a message to all of his soccer players. Understandably so, the emotions ran high for his girls.
“There’s nothing [the girls] can do or that either you or I can do about it and that’s the crazy part,” he said. “… I’ve been waiting in limbo to see what happens next.”
Burke explained to his seniors that it may not feel real for awhile and that’s okay. Jordan Crone was his lone player that had signed to play in college (Hutchinson CC). He also pointed out Sydney Nilles and Heather Mills, who were a part of the state basketball team that saw their season come to an end six days earlier.
“They got ripped away from state after making the semifinals,” he said. “… They got shoved into soccer stuff and then days later, it’s cancelled too. For those two girls, it has maybe been the craziest week of their life.”
Derby tennis coach Dennis Burns was left wondering what could be done to make up for a lost season. Sifting through the disappointment, he pointed out the number of underclassmen who lost their chance at competition that they may not otherwise get.
“This is unprecedented and we’re in new ground and I hope they look for [more opportunities] this summer,’ Burns said. “… Assuming if we’re cleared by the end of May, we’re good to group together again … could have some flexibility to work with teams this summer and make up for lost practice time.”
Jimmy Adams was set to return as girls’ swimming coach after leaving the post in 2014. While he was familiar with families because of coaching the boys team and also leading the Derby Dolphins, it didn’t lessen the impact.
“As a coach, even with the girls I haven’t coached in a couple of years, it’s hard because you want them to have everything they can,” he said. “It’s hard to see them all hurting at once. You are always going to go through something individually, but to have the entire program heartbroken is devastating as a coach.”
Similar to Burns, Adams also said he’d support an initiative to get more summer programming through KSHSAA.
Youth was also a major storyline on the golf course for coach Tim Herrs.
While he wants his players to follow health guidelines in place, he also said golf provides an opportunity to play under circumstances such as these.
At the time of publication, it had not been determined whether or not golf courses would be deemed an essential activity by local authorities.
“Time is what you need [with an inexperienced roster],” Herrs said. “You just wonder what games they’ll miss out on and what it’ll look like next year.”
Whether or not KSHSAA decides to take action toward any summer amendments has not been decided, according to Faflick.
However, the executive director said it will be discussed when there is more clarity from the COVID-19 outbreak.
“We just hope to have a normal summer at this point,” he said. “There are a lot of unknowns relative to when that start date might be. Medical experts say the peak will be May or June … some have said that it might last as long as 18 months. Part of that is our responsibility now to shorten that time frame and flatten that curve. We all have to do what needs to happen now.”