PORTSMOUTH — The Shawnee State softball squad, featuring a foursome from Scioto County, started its season playing in sunny Myrtle Beach.
And, admittedly, few things are better in life than a week-long trip to the South Carolina coast, especially when it involves competition which counts.
But who knew, aside from their doubleheader shutout sweep of Kentucky Christian in their only two home games, that the Myrtle Beach trip would be the Bears’ season highlight.
Or, who knew that the March 11 twinbill against Taylor Coleman and her Lady Knights’ teammates would be the Bears’ final games for this year.
That’s because, exactly two weeks ago on March 16, the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) announced that — due to growing health concerns regarding the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) — it was canceling the 2020 spring season.
Hence, after only 10 games, the Bears’ season suddenly came to an end —and NOT of their own making.
“After convening the Council of Presidents Executive Committee this morning (March 16), and with input from the National Administrative Council and National Eligibility Committee, the decision has been made to cancel the spring 2020 sports season, effective immediately,” NAIA President and CEO Jim Carr said in a press release. “We know this is extremely disappointing, especially for our student-athletes. All possible options for maintaining the spring season were discussed at great length by multiple governance groups. However, the growing state of emergency due to COVID-19, as well as the Center for Disease Control’s recommendation to limit gatherings to fewer than 50 people for eight weeks, meant we could not in good conscience move forward, possibly putting student-athletes, staff and fans at risk.”
Two of those freshman Bears in pitchers Madi Sifford of Minford and Hannah Oliver of Clay, along with West alumnus and KCU sophomore Coleman, spoke to The Portsmouth Daily Times about the 2020 season cancellation.
Coleman, a pitcher and infielder, and her fellow Knights actually managed to get 22 (10-12) games in, including 14 at home before the proverbial pulling of the plug.
“When I first heard about the NAIA cancelling all spring sports, I was heartbroken and my team was too, because my team is a family to me. It was heartbreaking because we weren’t going to be able to see each other for a while or go to the tournament to bring back a banner, trophy or a ring,” said Coleman, a Counseling Psychology major. “But we can also use this time to get better and come out next season and be the best. It’s very difficult right now, but I do believe it will get better.”
Two of Coleman’s teammates include utility freshman Emily Shoemaker of Minford and utility sophomore Shaylee Heistad of Waverly.
Sifford and Oliver also expressed shock and disappointment in the decision.
The Bears began play on March 3 in Myrtle Beach in the Fastpitch Dreams Classic, going 5-3 for the week with two games getting rained out on March 4.
Shawnee State then shut out Kentucky Christian 2-0 and 5-0 in the March 11 doubleheader, with Sifford in the opener and Oliver in the nightcap pitching for the complete-game wins.
“When I first heard about the NAIA cancelling spring sports, I was in shock. I understand that everyone’s health is very important, but I feel we could’ve come up with a different solution, like postponing the season and playing into the summer,” said Oliver, a Chemistry major. “Our team was working really hard together and putting a lot of work in for this season. I’m continuing to work hard while we take this time off, so that I can be even more prepared for next season.”
Actually, Oliver and Sifford will have all four seasons of eligibility remaining, while Coleman will have three.
Carr added in the March 16 press release that spring sports athletes will not be charged with a season of competition.
“In an effort to provide relief, any spring sport student-athlete who was enrolled full-time in 2020 will be awarded two additional semester terms of attendance or the equivalent,” he said.
Sifford, a Game Design major, said it was the silver lining in an otherwise dark cloud.
Also among the Bears are sophomore pitcher Faith Brown from Valley and junior infielder Kalle Coleman from Wheelersburg.
Coleman played at Morehead State University, before transferring to SSU.
“While I am sad I don’t get to play my freshman season, I am glad they canceled when they did, so we will all receive an extra year of eligibility. Since we didn’t play 20-percent of our season, all of the freshmen including myself will have four years of eligibility left,” said Sifford. “Right now, I am just focusing on my school work. To prepare for next season, I have been working on my pitching velocity.”
Taylor Coleman concurred in regards to her future preparation.
“Right now, I’m still working out with what I can do at home, staying active, going out in the yard with my brother who is in the eighth grade and just throwing, hitting and pitching,” she said. “Just to stay loose and also trying to get better.”
Hopefully, next season —should there indeed be one — will be better for ALL NAIA spring sports student-athletes, and Shawnee State’s season highlight will be more than just memorable Myrtle Beach.
Reach Paul Boggs at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1926, by email at [email protected], or on Twitter @BoggsSports © 2020 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved