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Mercury spring teams come to terms with cancellation of seasons

He was positioned to head two youth baseball teams in the Pottstown community.

But that was before the COVID-19 pandemic upturned the world in general, and sports specifically, the past couple months.

Chris Petro was recently named head coach of both the Pottstown High varsity and Pottstown Steelers American Legion baseball teams, replacing Geoff Thomas, who led the high school Trojans for two years, and Todd Endy, who logged 15 years as the Legion Steelers’ manager.

But like the rest of the world, the coronavirus outbreak was putting high-school baseball season in limbo at least through April. That became a complete cancellation Thursday when Gov. Tom Wolf announced all Pennsylvania school districts are being kept closed for the remainder of the 2019-20 academic year.

“(Thursday’s) decision by the PIAA Board of Directors was difficult for everyone,” Dr. Robert A. Lombardi, the PIAA’s Executive Director, said in a posting on the association’s website. “Their thoughts remain on the thousands of student-athletes, coaches, officials and family members affected by this decision. However, the Board’s position reflects a steadfast priority of keeping our student-athletes, officials and member schools’ staffs and their communities safe, while following  the guidelines provided  by  the Governor, the Department of Health and the Department of Education.

”We had maintained hope for a continuation of our Winter Championships and an abbreviated Spring season to help bring a sense of normalcy to our communities,” he added. “As we navigate through this difficult time, we need to remember the lessons that interscholastic athletics has taught us: cooperation, patience, sacrifice, responsibility, respect and perseverance.”

So Petro’s hopes for returning to the home dugout at Shantz Field and leading Pottstown’s drive for improvement over last year’s 3-13 record in the Pioneer Athletic Conference (3-15 overall) were dashed.

“With the six talented seniors leading the way, and a plethora of young talent under their wings, we had set our expectations high and our hopes even higher,” Petro said. “During the spring of 2020, we were primed to show just what Pottstown is made of. With the unfortunate circumstances that ensued, we are left only to wonder what might have been if this group of seniors had gotten the opportunity to play this season through.

“As disheartening as it is to think about, we all must set our sights on the future. However, we will celebrate the accomplishments of our seniors prior to them each moving on to bigger and even better things at the collegiate level.”

One of Pottstown’s seniors, planning to undertake an ambitious future past high school, was looking very much forward to the 2020 spring baseball season.

David Hicks, on track for admission to the United States Naval Academy, longed for a last go-round with classmates Jacob Eagle, Brandon Gebhard, Cole Miller, Darion Miller and Josiah Wiggins. For his part, Hicks wanted to impact a turnaround of the high-school program’s recent fortunes as part of a group that dates back to their days playing Little League ball in Pottstown.

“One of the things for me was the ability to take the field, to have one last season,” Hicks said. “We felt Pottstown finally had a team.”

Getting one more season on the diamond was especially big for Hicks. With “plebe summer camp” at the Academy starting in June, he wouldn’t be in position to play for the Pottstown Steelers American Legion baseball team.

Like Petro, Rick Harrison too was looking forward to debuting with Spring-Ford baseball after spending the past 12 years leading the Oley Valley High program. The pandemic hit the team especially hard as it was two days into a spring-training trip to Florida when it had to return home at the start of the quarantine period.

“This certainly wasn’t how I anticipated my tenure at Spring-Ford would begin,” he said. “We had a great off-season, strong leadership, work ethic and high expectations to say the least and we were all looking forward to the season.

“I don’t think, at the time, anyone thought our season would be cancelled. I was hoping the PIAA would continue to wait and maybe let us play into the summer, but I truly understand and support their decision as people’s health is bigger than baseball.

“From a baseball perspective, however, I would have loved to see school based baseball in June and July,” he added, “with the trend moving towards tournament and showcasing in the summer. This would have been a great opportunity to get back to playing meaningful baseball in the summer, with school districts competing against one another and teammates staying together.”

In an e-mail to Phoenixville High student-athletes, athletic director Matt Gionta said the PIAA’s announcement was “not entirely surprising, as we continue to come to the realization that life is — and will continue to be — a little different for the near future.

“Hope springs eternal, and this spring was no exception at PAHS,” he added. “Our focus was dialed in on team and individual success, as our student-athletes set their sights on division titles, conference championships and All-PAC recognition. Our Phantoms worked tirelessly in the offseason, eager to represent the Purple & White and hoping to make 2020 their year.

“Now, we will miss the final curtain call for our senior student-athletes, robbed of our senior nights and the opportunity to say thank you for their dedication to Phantom athletics. It is normal to feel a sense of loss, acknowledge the thoughts of what-could-have-been and reflect on how important the relationships with our teammates and coaches are to us.”

Grady Wise was prepared to lead a Boyertown boys lacrosse program that finished second in the PAC (8-1, 12-7) in 2019. Instead, he and his players are left working to draw positive inspiration from a very negative set of circumstances.

“I think the lesson learned, since hearing the spring sports season is cancelled, is to value every moment you have with your teammates and coaches,” Wise said. “In an instant, the opportunity to compete with your teammates can evaporate.

“I think this tough time reminds us how important it is to be present in every moment we spend with our teammates. Life will go on and sports will eventually return. We just have to be mindful as we return to sports to ‘be where our shoes are’ because these moments do not last forever.”

Steve Anspach, Pottsgrove’s director of co-curricular activities, also sees the pandemic as an opportunity for student-athletes to exercise a skill set forged on the practice and playing fields.

“We were sorry and sad to hear that the spring sports season was cancelled,” Anspach said, “but it was the best decision made for our nation at this time. Losing an opportunity to compete is always heartbreaking, and our thoughts are with our student athletes. Our hearts are especially with our senior athletes right now.

“Fortunately, being a student athlete teaches you many soft skills that help you in life. As athletes, we can rely on these skills to help us get through this adverse time for all in our nation.

“I know our spring athletes would want nothing more than being with their teammates, getting coached by our coaches, and competing in the maroon and white. However, our roles on our teams have changed. Our new team is everyone in our country, and our role is to practice the recommended safe habits so together we can flatten the curve of COVID-19.”

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