Coach Trevor Davis was driving our bus down I-235 on our way to Oklahoma City University where we were scheduled to play Millwood in the first game of the 3A boys state tournament at 2:00 pm when we began to see the posts on social media about a possible postponement. I told our boys to stay focused and control what we could control. After newspaper outlets reported the news, and it was confirmed by OSSAA officials, we turned the bus around. When we returned to our gym, we had a quick meeting where we reiterated our point to stay focused and control what we could control. We carried in the uniform bags and other equipment and left them by the door.
This was the first time that our basketball team had qualified for the state tournament since 2009. After winning 7 state championships through the 90s and 2000s, we had not returned to the state tournament in 10 years. I have experienced the state tournament as a player and an assistant coach. I wanted that experience for the players. They had all worked so hard and sacrificed so much. The state basketball tournament is unlike any other event. The entire community comes out for each team. We had ordered shirts that hundreds of our fans had ordered to display at the state tournament. This was not only a great experience for our current team, but this would give a palpable feeling that would inspire our younger players for the future. There may even be middle school and elementary age kids in the stands that will look back at that state tournament as motivation for their future work, but it was not to be.
No one really knew what was going to happen. As the athletic director, I began making and fielding calls to other athletic directors about spring sports. There weren’t very many sporting events scheduled for the next week because it was spring break; however, we had a baseball game at Bricktown scheduled for the following day. This is a great experience that our student athletes get to participate in. We felt the pull of the competitive/enjoyment value of the game and the safety of our players and fans. In agreement with our opponent, Mount Saint Mary’s, we decided to cancel the game. I can tell you as an administrator in charge of making decisions about game cancellations and postponement, you ask yourself whether you’re overreacting or underreacting. When safety is an issue, we always want to err on the side of caution. Our baseball team, which is two years removed from a state tournament berth, had their season cut short. Our head coach, Jacob Stephenson, was not able to finish his last season before accepting another role at the school. Seeing our very good senior class lead us this season was not to be.
As the spring progressed, more cancellations followed. We cancelled our soccer tournament along with the rest of our season. Our boys and girls soccer teams would have been very competitive this year. Our coaches, John Crowell and Jeff Stone, have done a great job of honoring their teams throughout this pandemic. We cancelled our track meet along with the rest of the meets. We have incredible track athletes that would have had a chance to win in multiple events. Tifton Spradlin was looking to defend his pole vault state championship, while Annabeth Sampson was looking to improve on her runner-up finish in the same event. After a runner-up finish a few years ago, our head boys track coach Trey Sanchez was not able to finish his last season with us before stepping away from coaching. He and our girls coach, Rodney Nichols, have built our track programs into two of the best in the state. Our tennis season was over for our first year head coach, Stacy Cato. I was excited to see her lead the program. The season was lost for our tennis team including our former individual state champion Mary Streller.
Our golf season was also finished. We had the opportunity to win state championships in both boys and girls golf. Head coach Steve Ray led our girls golf team to their first ever state championship, and was returning everyone this year including individual state runner-up Brooklyn Benn. Our boys team was led by two-time individual state champion OU commit, Jaxon Dowell and OCU commit, Bosten Benn. Coach Tosh Hays had them primed at a run for their third team state championship in four years, but it was not to be.
Let me take this time to say that I agree with the decision that was made by the OSSAA. It was not an easy decision to make, but it was the correct one. With that being said, what stories will remain unwritten? Which Cinderella teams would have made an incredible run that they would talk about for years to come? Which top team would have stood the test of everyone’s best shot to come out on top in the end? Those are the stories that everyone sees, but what about the others?
What about the bus rides that didn’t take place? What about the locker room experiences that didn’t happen? What about the camaraderie, sacrifice, teamwork, and relationships that would not come to fruition? It pales in comparison to health and life, but it is a loss for the teams, coaches, players, and fans. I hurt the most for our seniors who have spent countless hours playing the games they love, only to have an unfinished story. The 2020 season could have been their absolute best, but it was not to be.
Today, we filmed an academic and athletic awards video for our high school recipients. Our faculty, staff and administration have done a great job of trying to stay connected with the kids throughout this pandemic. We have had virtual meetings, virtual senior nights, virtual chapels, virtual classes, virtual prayer meetings, and even traveled to each senior’s home to put signs in their yards. Our community has been unbelievable working through something that doesn’t have a playbook. We have worked to honor them, but it’s not like the real thing. As I was leaving the gym, I walked to the back door to see the bag that we had left. I wished we were able to play in those uniforms to finish our season, to see what could have been.
But it was not to be.