Pottstown senior football players Jahzeel Watson and Sincere Strimpel tried to stay optimistic as they went through voluntary workouts this summer, holding out hope that a season would shortly follow.
Then the workouts were put on hold and a text from Trojans’ head coach Jeff Delaney last Thursday gave them the news they’d been dreading since returning to the field.
On Aug. 6, Pottstown cancelled athletics through Jan. 1, 2021 after the school district had already approved an all-virtual return to school for the first semester due to safety concerns around the coronavirus.
The Trojans are one of the three Pioneer Athletic Conference programs thus far to opt out of the fall season along with Norristown and Phoenixville, which is allowing singles tennis, golf and marching band.
While the decisions have been made with health and safety of student-athletes in mind, they were no less painful for the athletes who hoped to share the field with their friends and classmates one last time this fall.
“We’ve all really had the same reaction,” Watson said. “It was really heartbreaking just knowing that our senior season was gone. It was just kind of hard to take.”
“I was disappointed,” Strimpel said. “ I thought I was going to lead a team, we were going to have a good season, going to win, but I guess there are other things to worry about. I’m disappointed though. I’m mad we can’t play, but there ain’t really much we can do.”
Academy Park is the only other District 1 school to cancel its fall athletics thus far, while the Philadelphia Public League announced Monday it was postponing sports until 2021 as per the recommendations of Gov. Tom Wolf and the Pennsylvania Department of Health and Department of Education.
The Pioneer Athletic Conference announced last Thursday the delay of its fall sports season, beginning fall practices and heat acclimatization will begin Monday, Sept. 7 while competitions and games are allowed to begin Friday, Sept. 25.
The move gave school districts more time to make decisions on fall athletics as they also try to determine what kind of learning environment they will have available.
“I think sports are an important part of both physical and mental health for students,” Phoenixville senior boys soccer player Brendan Flick said. “I am definitely disappointed that as a senior we may not have the opportunity to play and compete this fall. It is my hope that over the next two weeks all parties involved will explore all possible options. Whether it be in the fall or spring, I just hope we get the chance to play.”
Norristown senior golfer Josh Ryan, the PIAA bronze medalist a year ago, has played individually throughout the summer and will have to stay that course during the fall. However, he laments the fact that Norristown didn’t make a decision like Phoenixville in letting some of its lesser-risk sports play this fall.
He also mentioned how exciting it was to get encouragement from neighbors, members of his church, people at Jeffersonville Golf Club and other members of the community during his successes the past several years.
Ryan, who has won the last two PAC individual boys titles and is the reigning District 1-3A champion, said he skipped on some big tournaments in 2019 to play for the high school and was excited to do so once again this season before heading off to Liberty University.
“I loved being part of a team,” Ryan said. “In golf, you’re usually by yourself. Being with a group of guys and playing is really special. Last year, I had a pretty big opportunity to play in a big tournament down south, but I decided to play the high school season because it means a lot to me to represent the community. You don’t have a lot of opportunities to do that.”
“I know decisions about safety are hard to make, but I just wish they let us play because it’s truly safe to be out on a golf course,” he added.
For some fall athletes, a missed season hinders potential recruiting interest.
Pottstown’s Watson ended his junior year with an injury and has no senior season to improve his stats and add more film to his highlight reel to send to college coaches.
He is trying to figure out other ways to generate interest from colleges.
“My main focus now is to get in contact with as many schools as possible,” Watson said. “I’ve been using this website Next College Student Athlete. Hopefully they can help me to really get in contact with as many schools as possible. … I’ve been talking with my coach. We’ve been sending emails out and trying to get some talks on the phone with college coaches too.”
Strimpel, who also has intentions of playing at the next level, is still trying to play football this fall.
This was going to be his first year at Pottstown after moving to the area from Detroit, where he was a standout defensive end at Detroit Central, earning all-city honorable mention honors from the Detroit Free Press in 2019.
He said he still has family in Detroit and has gotten in contact with his old coach along with talking to the Pottstown coaches about trying to figure out a way to play this year in Michigan, where football practices started Monday.
“Football, the game itself, it just teaches you a lot and for them to close up down here, it’s bad. I don’t even know what to say,” Strimpel said. “I just know I’m not going to be the person who just sits. If there’s a season somewhere, I’m going to go wherever I can go. I love Pottstown. I love everybody in the little town, but if I got the opportunity to play my senior season, I’m going to go take that.”
Phoenixville’s suspension of sports extends through the first marking period, which ends Oct. 31. Norristown will hold virtual-only learning through Jan. 11, 2021, but the school’s release noted only that there would be no athletics for the Fall 2020 season. Pottstown cancelled all athletic activities through Jan. 1, 2021.
Watson, who is also a member of the Trojans’ boys basketball and boys track & field teams, is once again trying to remain optimistic that he’ll have the opportunity to put on a Pottstown uniform again at some point even if it won’t be on the gridiron.
“I really hope so,” Watson said. “Basketball-wise I really haven’t gotten much recognition. Hopefully we can play this year, so I can get my name out there. And also for track because I lost my season last year, so I was really hoping to get it this year.”