WHEATLAND – To those who have played, coached, participated or had family involved in a local sports program, it is widely known how connected you can get to what becomes a great part of your life and your world for a span of time.
For some, it may be a season. For some, hard work began when you were old enough to grip the ball or the hockey stick.
Both varsity teams from Wheatland had their seasons unexpectedly cut short last week as the WHSAA canceled both the boy’s and the girl’s state basketball tournaments due to health warnings and increased infections of the COVID-19 virus that has sparked a global pandemic.
Boys’ Varsity coach Mick Cochran has led many teams into the state tournament and is also suffering the death of a season that ended just short of a chance to get to the big dance.
“It’s kind of a weird feeling,” Cochran said. “The kids have worked hard for this all year long, and many have been working toward this goal for many years.”
Cochran, who could have put a negative spin on the events took a step back and reflected on the situation. As a coach, how do you tell your players and their parents that the season was cut short seemingly in the peak of their glory.
“It’s tough,” Cochran said. “But as athletes I try to always teach my kids that there will be disappointments in life, and the key is how they handle those. Especially in such a sudden change. You do the best you can to let them know that life does have these things and as a coach you can only hope that they will not hang their heads or forget about all the things they learned that got them to this point.”
In a season that showcased many different athletes both on the girls’ and boys’ teams, Cochran said that he hoped the boys would not have regrets.
As for how it affects the coach, Cochran said, “After I heard the news, it was time to reflect on all that we’ve accomplished. You hope that what you’ve taught them always carries into life for them. That they never grumble the next day or be angry with situations that life sometimes hands you.”
Still, there is forever going to be that nagging question about what could have been. How would this kind of decision affect athletes who have been hoping for a last chance to earn a scholarship at such a prestigious stage as a State tournament. Perhaps an athlete can step into the game of their life and turn the head of a scout who has those precious few scholarships left to hand out.
“If you are good enough,” Cochran said, “they most likely have already seen you and will come and find you. Especially in a place like Wheatland.”
Cochran also offered a word of sympathy for the girl’s program and commented that many of the girls also worked hard for many years to get where they were.
“I feel bad for them,” Cochran said. “It’s been a few years since the girls have been there and this year would have been a great opportunity for them.”
Wheatland is not the only town going through the pains of having their dreams and goals cut short due to COVID-19. Many teams from across the State and even across the nation have been part of the graduating class of 2020 that will carry the infamous memories and stories well into the next generation.
In Blooming Prairie, a small town in Southeast Minnesota, fifth year Coach Nate Piller is experiencing the same pains as his “Awesome Blossoms” who were crowned sectional 1A champions March 13. It would have been the first time since 1966 that a Blooming Prairie team would get to the State tournament.
“We went from feeling exuberant following the game to flabbergasted by about noon yesterday,” Piller said. “It was a huge emotional swing. I am so proud of what this team accomplished but I wish they were able to get the true state experience and to be able to play out their games.
“At the very least, we qualified for the tournament. Many teams didn’t get to play their section championship. Playoff teams couldn’t do it, it took a world pandemic to end our season. For years, this group of boys did everything we asked and we are so proud of their accomplishments.”
The WHSAA stated on their website, “The 3A/4A State Basketball Tournament will not take place this year. We understand the tremendous disappointment this decision is for our student athletes, especially our seniors, but please realize that we must be a responsible state organization and that our highest priority is ensuring the safety of our students, schools and communities.”
The pandemic does not have an end-date. It has affected sports from professional to elementary schools. It has had an economic impact on the nation and upon each athletic program. Nobody, however can realize the impact that it has had on the psyche of the coaches, the athletes and the parents of those involved in the final high school season of their career.
Only 8.1% of cases were 20-somethings, 1.2% were teens, and 0.9% were 9 or younger. The World Health Organization mission to China found that 78% of the cases reported as of Feb. 20 were in people ages 30 to 69.