MOULTRIE – Weird. Frustration.
Those are just a couple of the words used to describe the differing emotions felt by Colquitt County High coaches since March 13 when the school – from the recommendation of the Georgia High School Association – put not only its athletic programs but the entire educational system on hold until March 29, a date stretched to March 31 per the order of Gov. Brian Kemp. The nation is dealing with an outbreak of the recently-discovered coronavirus (COVID-19), and steps are put in place in all walks of life seeking to prevent its spread. In Georgia alone, the number of reported infected persons reached 1,000 this week with three cases reported by Colquitt Regional Medical Center.
Where were the various Packer spring sports at the time of suspension? Boys and girls tennis already concluded Region 1-7A matches – finishing unbeaten – and were awaiting the region playoffs in Valdosta scheduled for mid-April. Boys and girls soccer completed four out of six region matches with the Packer boys sitting in first place. Baseball was just getting its region season going having swept a doubleheader at Lowndes on March 6 and was looking at three straight region doubleheaders at Packer Park.
But not only has there not been a game, a track meet or a golf tournament since March 13, but the Colquitt County teams are not allowed to practice – even voluntarily – during the suspension. It’s a situation facing every school program in the state.
“It’s been weird,” said Packer boys soccer head coach Jimbo Jarvis. He would later add “awkward” to his initial feelings more than one week into the suspension.
Jarvis said since March 13 the players have basically been “on their own.” They were scheduled to play Northside-Columbus on the road that Friday and Brooks County at home with a high noon start Saturday, March 14. But Jarvis said the team gathered together that last day of school and they all understood and accepted what was going on. This even though they were in the middle of one of the best seasons in program history, a 9-1 record.
“It came out of left field,” said Jarvis. “We knew concerns were getting high, but then it snowballed.
“I completely agree (with suspending school and sports). It’s just an awful feeling for the seniors. I would like to see what the rest of the season looks like.”
The players, he said, are hoping to at least have the state playoffs. Jarvis, for one, would like to have a Senior Night so that his 12th graders can experience what others in their position did in the past.
Colquitt County’s only loss in boys soccer came on March 6 1-0 at Camden County. Jarvis said the Wildcat goalkeeper had an amazing game stopping shot after shot. As for the Camden point, the coach said that came on a fluke play when the Packer defense tried a clearing kick at the top of the penalty box. The ball basically went the wrong way from what it was intended and became an own goal.
The last soccer match was March 10 at Lowndes with Colquitt winning 2-1. The Packers have the head-to-head tiebreaker edge on Camden for fewest goals allowed in the two encounters.
Since then, Jarvis hasn’t had much contact with the players except for one non-soccer related occasion last week. He said one of his senior player’s father passed away and he went to the services – staying outside – and offered condolences to the family. He said other Packer players did the same.
There is one player the coach keeps in close touch with, his own son John Reid. Jarvis said he did tell the players before disbanding to stay fit, exercise, get out and jog, kick a ball around, etc., just in case.
First-year head baseball coach Matt Crews said the day began March 13 with him thinking at least Colquitt would get in that night’s doubleheader with Camden County. But as the morning moved on, he learned around 9:30 that Camden school officials were not allowing any athletic events or out-of-town travel. Then came word around 10 of Colquitt’s decision.
“We’ve worked since last summer to prepare for this season,” said Crews. “The boys put in a lot of hard work in the weight room to get in shape. And then halfway through it to shut it down, it’s disappointing.”
The Packers played March 10 at Worth County, and Crews said that they were excited about facing Camden. He said they had a great practice on Thursday because they knew some kind of suspension was coming and it might be their last chance to play for a long time.
“It hit home as a possibility,” said Crews on learning about the cancellation of March Madness by the NCAA. “It hit (the seniors) hard. You dream your whole life of playing (your senior season), and you don’t know if you’ve played your last game. We were just starting to gel.”
While he can’t be around the players, Crews said he knows some have their own batting cages to work on their swings on their own. He said he’s made phone calls and sent other messages trying to keep their spirits up, making sure no one will do anything crazy. If the Packers are able to play again, Crews doesn’t think there will be much time to get back in playing form with all the games they’d need to make up.
While hitters not seeing live pitching or infielders not taking ground balls could be a problem, Crews said the biggest concern would be with pitchers. He said he can only hope they are doing their own long throwing, and he doesn’t want to do anything that would jeopardize a player’s future beyond baseball.
It comes down to a battle between what’s best for public safety and what these young people could accomplish.
Jarvis pointed out how he sees so many instances of people not heeding the warnings about social distancing even though he understands people need to do what they have to do, like go to work. This is not, he said, a vacation.
“I told them it’s all about them and their families,” said Jarvis. “We love soccer, but there’s things more important than soccer.”
Consider this: Colquitt County High head football coach Justin Rogers still hasn’t been on the job one full year. He arrived on April 16, 2019, and he’s considering the possibility it could be that date or beyond this year before he can work with Packer football players again.
At least this time, everyone involved knows who he is and what he expects.
Rogers said the protocols were already in place to keep up with the players during school breaks to make sure they are conditioning. They, too, have been on their own since March 13, and Rogers said they were in the middle of an “unbelievably” important time in their offseason program. This mainly involves weight training, running, endurance and agility work.
“You have to take ownership,” said Rogers, calling it distant learning and player-driven. “Everything got derailed. We will adjust … feel it out as we go.”
A big date for Packer football is May 15. That’s when they are scheduled for a spring scrimmage game against Cairo. It’s their chance to showcase new turf on Tom White Field at Mack Tharpe Stadium.
However, there are no major college spring football games to attend, and those are usually set up as a showcase for recruits. Right now, there is no visiting or scouting allowed in any sport, especially in baseball. Two of Crews’ seniors already signed college scholarships and he said one other made a commitment. Now, all he can do is talk about players over the phone.
“It’s changed our world,” said Rogers. Though he misses the players and said it’s a terrible situation overall, one bright spot he found is more time to spend with his family. His young son is certainly “fired up” about seeing dad more.