Humans, especially athletes, are a sentimental bunch. We (speaking as a washed-up athlete) cling to moments and milestones to carry us through and give us motivation for the next task ahead. One of the largest and most important times in a young athlete’s life is the opportunity to compete in their senior year of high school.
The countless hours of practice, the long bus rides, the late nights and the time spent in the weight room instead of somewhere more fun — at 8 a.m. on a summer morning few places are less fun — will finally have a purpose. The one last ride to glory, hopefully.
The spring and winter athletes in the class of 2020 will never get to experience their “swan song.” A pandemic of all things has stripped that from thousands upon thousands, and while I agree with the decision to effectively end high school sports for this year, it still sucks. Sports are certainly not the most important thing right now, but seniors not getting to compete in their last year is a big deal.
I understand what it’s like to lose a senior year, but even I can’t comprehend what these athletes are going through.
I graduated from a small high school in mid-Missouri in 2018. I was one of nearly 40 seniors and we were a Class 2 high school in most sports. I was a multi-sport athlete in high school, but I only ever really loved one sport. Basketball. In my junior and senior year, I decided to focus solely on the hardwood athletically.
I was not particularly great at basketball — there is a reason I want to cover sports for a living and not play them — but at a small high school I had enough skill to get playing time. I had started playing Dr. Naismith’s game at age 4 and I loved it.
Basketball provided me with so much during my life. It had given me a passion, friendships, and even strengthened a relationship between my brother and I. For me, my senior season of basketball was going to be a culmination of years of work.
My high school was a basement dweller in terms of success in basketball. We had won only a few games when I was in eighth grade and the team was hard to watch (I know because my brother was on it). We had steadily gotten better throughout high school until my junior season, the first season I got any meaningful playing time. We won a district game for the first time in a long time.
We were losing a few seniors but the team was optimistic about next season, and as a team, we began to work hard in the offseason. I was very excited for the upcoming season and then I ruined my chances of ever playing in it.
I was attending Missouri Boys State the summer prior to my senior year and playing in what was essentially an intramural basketball game when I tried to show off. My team was winning by a lot and I decided to throw a much too flashy pass that involved a lot of in-air movement. I wasn’t athletic enough for this move, and when I landed, my knee went the wrong direction.
I had torn my ACL and meniscus mere months before the start of my senior season. My senior year passed with me transitioning from a large brace to a smaller brace to no brace, but never into an official uniform until my senior night. I got to warm up with the team and I was even announced with the starters, but given my medical status, I couldn’t play.
My entire senior basketball season passed by without me logging a single minute of action. I was cleared a few weeks after we were eliminated from the playoffs.
At least I got something.
At least I got to hear the roar of the crowd during senior night. At least I got to put on the uniform. At least I got to watch my friends find joy on the court. At least I got to go to games and practices and have a somewhat normal season.
This year’s seniors get none of that.
They get to sit at home and scroll through photos of past seasons. They get to lay in their rooms pondering what-ifs as they try to stave off boredom. They get to text and call their friends and try to reminisce about previous seasons knowing they will never put on that uniform again.
Yeah, sports aren’t that important on a grand scale, and given everything that is going on right now, they should be canceled. But that doesn’t make it suck any less. Whether the athlete was an all-state hopeful or just hoping to play one last time, they won’t get the chance. Seniors, as cliche as it sounds, it will get better and you will move on, but don’t let anyone tell you this doesn’t suck. Because it does.