Coaches, administrators and players disappointed; decision due to covid-19

(May 1, 2020) After consulting with the Maryland State Board of Education and Dr. Karen Salmon, State Superintendent of Schools, the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association announced earlier this week the cancelation of events for the remainder of the 2019-20 school year.

This includes the remainder of the boys’ and girls’ basketball state championships and all spring sports, as well as spring state championships.

“It’s certainly understandable, but I’m highly disappointed for the kids. They work so hard to earn the right to be on a team,” Lou Taylor, superintendent of Worcester County Public Schools, said.

Due to covid-19, the Maryland State Department of Education ordered all schools closed from March 16 through March 27. It was then extended to April 24, but because of the increase in coronavirus cases, the school opening date was pushed back to May 15.

“It’s taken away an activity that is important to our kids in Worcester County,” Taylor said. “Hopefully this will end and we’ll be back to normal someday soon.”

Taylor, who is a former principal of Stephen Decatur High School, where he also played sports and coached, said he will miss cheering on the student-athletes. He enjoys standing on the sidelines and watching them play, he added.

Don Howard, Stephen Decatur High School’s athletic director, agreed.

“I go to ever home event,” he said. “It’s a pleasure for me to watch them play.”

Sports offered at Decatur during the spring season include, boys’ and girls’ tennis, baseball, softball, track and field, and boys’ and girls’ lacrosse.

Preseason for nearly all the sports teams kicked off on Feb. 29. Teams had about two weeks of practices before schools were closed.

Howard, who coached the Decatur varsity softball team for many years, said everyone held out hope that some of the season would be salvaged, but when the school closures were extended to May 15, that sealed the deal.

“I feel so sorry for the seniors in particular because they don’t have the opportunity to participate in their final season of high school sports,” he said. “That’s what bothers me most.”

This would also have been the first spring season for teams to play on the school’s new turf field inside the stadium.

Sara Braniecki, coach of the Decatur girls’ lacrosse team, said she was looking forward to the season.

“I’m super disappointed and the girls are definitely disappointed,” she said. “Everyone’s totally bummed. They miss doing something they love with the people they love.”

Braniecki said after the first two-week closure, she hoped the girls would be able to get back on the field.

“We told them to stay in shape and keep a stick in their hands,” she said.

Braniecki had seven seniors on her roster this season. Five of them have signed to play lacrosse in college.

“I don’t know if that makes it harder or easier because they will have the chance to play more lacrosse,” she said. “But, they’re missing out on their senior year playing together here.”

Most of the girls have been playing together since they were kids.

Braniecki was pleased with their performance during the short preseason and was excited for the next few months.

“They were more in shape, they were more aggressive and they were wanting to go far in the state tournament, more than I’ve ever seen,” she said. “They had really improved. It was just promising. I was looking forward to having a really good season.”

Scott Kurtz, coach of the varsity softball team, was also looking forward to the season.

“There were big expectations for a lot of our teams to do well this season,” he said. “It’s a tough season to miss out on.”

His team was able to get one scrimmage in, and Kurtz was pleased with the performance on the mound. He handed out new uniforms to his players a few days before their scheduled playday on March 14, which ended up being canceled.

“I sent them home from practice and I haven’t seen them since,” he said. “You set goals, and you just don’t get the chance to see how it plays out, and that’s tough.”

Kurtz had three seniors on his roster this season. Two plan to play softball in college.

“They missed out on their final opportunity to win another Bayside championship,” he said. “I felt really good about our chances. I felt like we had the pieces of the puzzle to do it. We had a target on us and we were looking forward to embracing that role.”

Up until earlier this week, Kurtz said he was still hopeful they could get some games in, even if schools opened back up on May 18.

“It’s just a big empty hole right now. Just a piece is missing,” he said. “They’re playing on their own and I know they’ll be ready to get back at it. We’ll make our run next year.”

Worcester Preparatory, a private college prep school also located in Berlin, has been following the state’s closures.

Worcester Prep Athletic Director Matt McGinnis, who is also the president of the Eastern Shore Independent Athletic Conference, which the school participates in, said everyone held out hope that some of the season could be made up.

When it was announced that school closures were extended to May 15, the decision was made to cancel the spring sports season.

Sports offered at Worcester Prep during the spring include, boys’ and girls’ tennis and lacrosse. Typically, the regular season wraps up around May 1, and playoffs about a week later.

“My heart goes out to everybody – the coaches who love coaching the kids, and especially the senior student-athletes. They had big dreams and big goals their last year,” McGinnis said. “It’s a bummer. It’s a small school, so the coaches really develop a relationship with their student-athletes.”

Worcester began its preseason on March 2. The tennis teams, which have new courts this year, had several practices and both lacrosse teams were able play a scrimmage or two before schools were closed.

Chris Williams, coach of the girls’ lacrosse team, said he saw good things during his scrimmages.

“It was looking like such a good year. It was going to be a fun, exciting season,” he said. “We were looking great. We had a great group of seniors. Such a talented group.”

Williams had 13 seniors on his roster for this season. One plans to play lacrosse in college, so Williams said “this was like the last hurrah for the seniors.”

“And we had some young talent and what they would learn from the seniors would be invaluable,” he said. “It was crushing. This was the most successful senior class in terms of quality and quantity. We just had so many seniors that were going to contribute.”

Williams said he kept holding out hope some of the season games could be played.

“We were trying everything we could to get them on the field one more time,” he said. “But, things just kept getting worse. It never crossed my mind in the beginning that the whole season would be lost. Prom, graduation, senior trip – they’re all great things they worked so hard for their high school years. They earned those. It’s just devastating all around.”

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