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Column — Times like these are what separates the great athletes from the good ones

Austin Hemmingson

ESCANABA — So now, it’s official.

As of Friday afternoon, the MHSAA officially cancelled the remainder of the 2019-20 winter and spring sports seasons due to the coronavirus pandemic, leaving athletes, coaches, and parents all across the state heartbroken.

The thing is, most of us knew this was coming. But the simple fact remains that no matter how much you mentally prepare yourself for the inevitable, it still hits hard when the inevitable turns into reality.

By now, you’re probably tired of hearing the word ‘coronavirus’ or ‘COVID-19’, regardless of your opinion on the situation. I’m probably more sick of hearing those words than about the situation itself, which speaks volumes.

Over the past few weeks — which have felt like an eternity already — I’ve brainstormed some story ideas and mostly wrote about the past. I was hoping our top 10 girls and boys basketball games of the year lists would be something refreshing, just so you wouldn’t all have to read about the coronavirus and its effects every day.

Since then, I’ve transitioned more into current news, and now I’ll be going back into how the virus is affecting local sports and athletes once again.

That brings me to the point of this column.

The time we’re going through right now is the kind of time that separates the great athletes from the good ones.

To all athletes reading this, it would be very easy to pack your bags and mail it in right now. For some of you seniors, this literally was supposed to be your last sports season.

But for the underclassmen or those planning on continuing your career at the next level, this is when you can gain that extra advantage.

It’s easy to focus on the past. If you turn on any major sports network right now, that’s all they’re really doing — showing replays of old games.

It’s easy to focus on the present. If you turn on any major news network, all you’ll hear about is the coronavirus and its effects.

What isn’t easy is to focus on the future. Because of the times we’re living in, nobody really knows when things are going to get back to normal. Games are over, practices are done, and even gyms are closed.

This is when those who want it the most will find a way. Whether it’s going for a run every day, shooting hoops in your backyard, doing simple activities such as push-ups or sit-ups on a daily basis, or even spending all that extra time in front of your TV watching film instead of the latest comedy, this is when you can truly grow as an athlete while everyone else falls behind.

If you listen to the greatest athletes speak, almost every single one of them will tell you the reason they got where they are was putting in the extra time when nobody else wanted to. Sure, they were born with an insane amount of talent, but hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard.

Will it be easy to do these things? Definitely not.

I’ll be the first to admit one of my biggest regrets is not putting in the extra time or taking basketball as seriously as I wished I would have during my senior year, which ended just a short five years ago.

I admitted this to my former coach, John Pintar, earlier this year when Alpena was in town to take on Escanaba. I acknowledged I was distracted by other things in high school that took my focus a little bit off of basketball. He simply smiled and replied with something along the lines of, ‘Yeah, it goes by fast.’

Point being, I wish I could go back, but you really only get to do this whole sports career thing once.

Another thing I’ve also found is the best things in life usually happen right after going through some really hard times.

At this point, there should be no doubt in anyone’s mind that this is a hard time for everyone, everywhere.

If you use this time to pick yourself back up and push through, your chance at success and redemption on the other side of this pandemic will grow immensely. It’s a difficult time, but there’s always a light at the end of the tunnel.

One thing is for sure — we’ll come out of this, it’s just a matter of when. The only thing that isn’t for sure is where everyone will be at that point.

The choice is yours.

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