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Tribute to High School Seniors Who Lost Their Last Season

April 13, 2020

I

 

t's undeniable that a high school athlete's senior season is one of the best times of their athletic lives.

 

Even if they're going on to play in college somewhere, nothing beats those last several weeks playing alongside your classmates and childhood best friends. 

 

Sadly, Maine's Class of 2020 won't get to experience that this spring.

 

Not unexpectedly, the Maine Principals' Association announced Thursday the cancellation of the high school baseball, softball, track and field, tennis and lacrosse seasons in the Pine Tree State in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak. 

 

 

While it's easy to understand the decision made by the MPA, it sucks in a multitude of ways. 

 

And for this journalist and former track and field and cross country captain (Brewer High School, Class of 2003), I thought of a lot of things.

 

Of course, I thought of my own memories - more on that later - but more importantly I thought of my sports reporting peers who will have a slower than normal spring, the coaches who won't get to lead their student-athletes, and most of all, the players who won't get to make one last memory. 

 

I thought of one of my former coaches, Chris Libby. 

 

Libby has built the Orono High School track program into one of the best in the state. He has taken the lessons learned from the legendary Dave Jeffrey - another one of my former coaches - and applied them to his own athletes. It has resulted in multiple individual and team state championships. Don't be surprised if former Red Riot Hannah Steelman is on the U.S. Olympic team this decade.

 

I thought of one of my former teachers, Don Stanhope. 

 

Stanhope is one of the best and most respected high school softball coaches in the state, and has built Bangor's program into one that is a contender year in and year out. 

 

His 2010 squad that won the program's first regional title is one of the favorite teams I've covered as a journalist. That team had it all, an ace pitcher in Sam Bedore, who went on to play at Rhode Island, balance up and down its lineup, and undeniable team chemistry. Beating perennial powerhouse Skowhegan in extra innings in the regional final - which made my deadline a hair tighter - is something that made that team special. Bedore also got out of a bases-loaded, nobody-out jam in that game, a difficult task in high school softball. 

 

While the Rams couldn't claim a state championship, losing a 1-0 pitchers duel against a talented South Portland club that is one of the best games I've ever covered, their grace in defeat was one of inspiration and class. And it starts from Stanhope, who is as great an educator as he is a coach. 

 

Lastly, I thought of my former teammates and coaches. 

 

One of them, Brewer track coach Glendon Rand, posted a long, heart-felt video to his athletes on the program's Facebook page this week. 

 

I thought of that final season and all the blood, sweat and tears we poured in. 

 

I thought of our final state meet, a rainy day at Thornton Academy, which served as one last chance to put on the Orange and Black. In three months time, I would be trading in my spikes for a notebook. I wound up running a personal best.

 

My longtime best friend was our only New England championship qualifier, but elected to have that rainy day in Saco with our teammates serve as her final time competing in track before accepting a scholarship to NYU.

 

I thought of the memories, which go beyond wins and losses, such as pasta parties and going to Dysart's at 1:00 in the morning. I thought of all the times myself and Heather Clark - arguably the best distance runner to come out of Brewer's fabled track program and was awarded with a scholarship to Florida State - pushed and drove each other on summer training runs. 

 

It was a funny irony when we returned to our hometown in 2016 to celebrate 100 years of Brewer track when our former science teacher gave us a hard time for sitting out the mile. 

 

I thought of the way Jeffrey molded me into a strong leader, the type that always wants his teammates to be their own kind of strong on any given day. 

 

Lastly, I thought of the Class of 2020, There will be no final out or last race for these young men and young ladies. Many of them are heading off to college and won't participate in athletics at that level. There's nothing special than one last hurrah with your best friends, whether you're a state championship contender or if you miss the playoffs.

 

My heart breaks for them in more ways than one. While this is not the way you wanted your high school career to end, use it as a form to get stronger mentally. And if you're not a member of the Class of 2020, do everything you can to be ready for the fall season come September.

 

The comeback is greater than the setback. And the comeback from COVID-19 will be just as satisfying as Super Bowl LI and the 2004 ALCS. 

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