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Area A.D.’s react to spring without sports

Austin Hemmingson | Daily Press Gladstone’s Zach Hanson (right) attempts to dodge the tag of Marquette’s Jon Jason, May 17, 2019 at Gladstone.

ESCANABA — There’s an old saying out there that says tomorrow is never promised.

For most people, that saying doesn’t apply very often. But when it does, it hits home fast.

Mostly everyone knew the Michigan High School Athletic Association was going to cancel the remainder of winter tournaments and spring sports altogether due to the recent coronavirus pandemic, but when it actually happened last Friday, it became a very surreal moment for many.

“It’s still surreal — it hasn’t set in yet for me,” Escanaba Athletic Director Tony Perino said in a phone interview Monday night. “I guess I’m still in awe and kind of shocked about what’s going on. I understand what’s going on with the virus and everything from Day 1, but it’s something where some people live a full lifetime and don’t have to deal with anything like this. I think what it really will show everyone — especially our student-athletes — is that life’s precious. We can’t take anything for granted. We all have grandparents that have lived through the Spanish flu pandemic or the Hong Kong flu pandemic in ’68.”

Like every other school, the Eskymos had a lot to be excited about this spring. Their softball team was aiming to three-peat as state champs and their boys and girls golf teams were scheduled to host U.P. Championships, just as a few examples.

“I was obviously devastated for our kids,” Perino said. “I’m just at a bit of a loss for words for the athletes. Not just our seniors and the seniors throughout the U.P., but also our incoming freshmen and sophomores and juniors who have really worked hard to get to this year.

“I was looking forward to our softball team possibly doing something that’s unheard of and three-peat. Our golf teams were supposed to host U.P. championships at Sweetgrass and Sage Run. It goes on and on and on with all of our sports.”

The announcement became seemingly inevitable after Gov. Gretchen Whitmer declared a “state of disaster” and shut down schools for the remainder of the year Thursday.

“You kind of knew it was coming after the governor’s announcement on Thursday, but hearing the announcement is when it became real,” Gladstone Athletic Director David Lindbeck said. “We all knew it by that time once the announcement came from the governor’s office, but it was still pretty surreal. I got (the announcement) right away from the MIAAA (Michigan Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association) before it went public and it was pretty surreal.”

Like Perino, Lindbeck’s main takeaway is devastation for the student-athletes.

“The support for our kids right now (is the most important thing),” Lindbeck said. “That’s the direction that our district is taking, too. We want to keep our relationships strong, because this is when they need you the most. We want to be able to support our kids.”

Lindbeck also noted he hopes his seniors will use this as a learning experience they can take with them through the rest of their lives.

“As our seniors move forward, this is going to be one of those areas that they faced adversity,” he said. “What we want to teach these kids is no matter what vessel you’re traveling in, you have to overcome adversity. That’s what gets you through those difficult times. This is one of those unprecedented, never-saw-it-coming times. Just like that, their world and their innocence is taken away just by this.

“It’s going to be important for them to look at this as a learning experience. It’s not going to define your high school season, it’s the skills you get after for your journey into your young adulthood, where you’re going to get hit by all kinds of things.”

Perino echoed those sentiments, while also noting he hopes his students and everyone else takes this pandemic seriously.

“You just can’t find the right words to say to our student-athletes,” he said. “Our coaches have done a good job with keeping in communication. We’ve all been staying in contact, and our student-athletes have been taking it upon themselves to start kind of helping the pain. They’ve started their own social media pages and started posting the things that they’re doing on their own.

“I hope our student-athletes are taking this seriously… I’ve seen it between here and Gladstone and between here and Rapid River, where people are congregating. Not to say they’re meeting up, but in a way they kind of are. That’s the scary part, because if people aren’t taking this seriously, it’s not helping the situation and we’re not going to get out of this anytime soon.”

Each athletic director backed the MHSAA’s decision to make this tough call, citing it’s better to be safe than sorry.

“I can’t wrong the MHSAA for anything, nor would I. They support our athletes and schools despite what people might say. You can’t wrong them when they’re so closely tied. They’re basically five miles from the state capital, and they stay in tune with the governor. You’re better off being safe than sorry,” Perino said.

“I think they did the best they could with the situation. There still was hope. They wanted to finish the winter tournaments, and they were hopeful the spring tournaments would happen, possibly with a delay. Had they closed the door on things from the get-go, they would have sent a lot of kids the other route — maybe not working out or going for a run or going for a walk or throwing a baseball with their mom or dad or hitting in the garage… It would have been different because there wouldn’t have been the preparation needed.

“I fully support the fact that they looked at every possible avenue and held out for as long as possible with the hope that we still could have finished out winter tournaments and had a spring season. For that, I’m grateful for (Executive Director) Mark Uyl and his staff for trying to make that happen. That’s all you could have hoped for, and at least we had that opportunity.”

Perino also wanted to make sure to note that all of Esky’s facilities are closed, including the athletic fields.

Lindbeck summarized his feelings and what his statement to his athletes would be if he had to sum it up.

“The true message would be to reflect on this and learn from this,” he said. “Like the Ray Lewis quote, ‘If tomorrow wasn’t promised, what would you give today?’ Nothing is ever promised… For our seniors, that tomorrow didn’t happen. Everything’s gotta be today.

“There’s so much to say, because you are emotionally attached to these kids and the coaches — you know what they’ve done. It’s an empty feeling, and I just feel for the Class of 2020. We’ll be relying on these guys in the future to be leaders and give insight to our younger kids that will have their season in the future, and what they can do to better themselves. Their sport might be done, but their leadership is going to be their legacy, and we’ll be relying on that.”

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