For seniors, potential lost season hits hard
The diamond, be it for baseball or softball, has long been a special place in St. Charles Parish prep athletics.
The Destrehan Wildcats and Hahnville Tigers have accomplished great things among them in both sports. The crowds are large and supportive, the coaches experienced and knowledgeable, and the players passionate and talented.
It means it’s all the more difficult, for everyone involved, when it vanishes in an instant. Such was the case when both sports saw operations suspended during the COVID-19 pandemic. And for senior players, the prospect that they’ve played their last game in a Tigers or Wildcats uniform is a very real one.
“The not knowing is the worst part,” said Montana Smith, a senior on a Hahnville softball team that was ranked in the state’s top 5 when play was suspended. “I don’t know if I’ll ever get back out there.”
As of Wednesday morning, the prospect of the respective seasons resuming at some point was still alive, with ongoing prep athletics in the same boat as most other things these days: in a wait and see scenario.
Smith said she and her teammates learned of the season stoppage during a team meeting, one that quickly became emotional for all involved.
“We were supposed to go to St. Amant (that day) to play. We all walked in … everyone started crying,” Smith said. “We didn’t know if we could go back to practicing … it’s a surreal experience. I think if this proves the end of the season, it would be very devastating, but I also know we left our hearts out there, not even knowing if it could be our last time.”
Destrehan baseball senior Dickie Gibbs said he and his fellow Wildcats were on a bus ride back when head coach Chris Mire braced them for the possibility that they had played their final game.
“Coach Mire stands up and says to us ‘Alright, quick talk …you all do know this may be the last weekend we play. So enjoy this bus ride and this weekend because we know the end is coming.’ That is how we found out,” Gibbs said. “When he said that the bus was just silent for a solid 5 minutes. I started to even tear up. Hearing that from him made it worse because if he is saying it then we know it’s real and it’s serious.”
A day later, players were in the middle of a workout when the official news broke. That night, Gibbs was to be the team’s starting pitcher at Zachary, a start he’d never get to make.
“It’s more than weird because I have been doing the same thing for four years,” Gibbs said. “You become so accustomed to this schedule and then you not being on it anymore, it just throws you off. I never thought I’d say it, but I want to go back to the 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. schedule. It became a part of us.”
The idea he may not get to play again isn’t a welcome one.
“For all of us senior baseball players, we’re losing more than just prom,” Gibbs said. “I see tweets from underclassmen who are happy school is cancelled. I just can’t relate … every day Coach Mire lets us know we’re going to stay strong through this time. We’re doing everything we can as a team to keep the bond strong between each other.”
Hahnville baseball senior Jack Stumbo said the thought of losing the remainder of his senior season is a painful one.
“It’s really … I just feel empty almost. Just full of regrets,” Stumbo said. “Didn’t get to go out the way I wanted to, so much left on the table (were the season to end). It’s frustrating. Things happen for a reason … it’s probably a life lesson, to understand that you never know when something can end. But selfishly, I’m also kind of like, ‘Why me?’
“It’s almost like … my whole baseball life is coming up to this one last season, and for it to be cut short is tough to accept. You work so hard as a team, and then it’s just over.”
It’s not just seniors affected, though.
Destrehan’s softball team entered a season that ranked as its most anticipated season in years, and perhaps ever. The Wildcats made a run to the Class 5A state quarterfinals last year – the team’s deepest run ever – and were off to a hot start in 2020.
DHS has no senior players, so all will be back. But for an ascending program just beginning to make its mark, a season that might have been tough to imagine just a few years ago has stalled prematurely.
“We would love to go play softball again, every one of us,” said Destrehan’s Chelsie Franck. “It just feels awful to know that this was all cut short for something that’s never happened before. It hurts to know it can all be over that quick.
“We’re all just saying that next time, when we do eventually get back out there, whenever that is, give it your all because you never know how fast it could end.”
Among everyone, though, Smith’s situation is a unique one. That would be the case any season, but in particular in this set of circumstances – she is the lone senior softball player in St. Charles Parish.
“Everyone on the team is exorcising some demons with this, but Montana is in a unique situation and she’s fighting that by herself in a lot of ways,” said Hahnville head coach Jerry Nugent. “She might be losing her senior season, and she’s the only one in this position on our team.”
In prep athletics, the senior season is what athletes build to, a season they take on clear leadership roles and often hit the kind of peaks made possible by four seasons of ongoing work.
“She was a key part of our team two years ago that broke so many records … she was a timid freshman who started to show what kind of leader and athlete she’d grow into that year,” Nugent said. “I pray that somehow, all of this ends up being contained and we’re able to move forward with life, and for her. Wins, losses and championships aside, I’d give anything to see her have one more opportunity to wear purple and gold.”
Smith said Nugent has promised her that regardless of whether the season restarts or not, he’ll find a way to make her final days as a Hahnville player special.
“He reminds me every day,” Smith said. “That if even he can’t do it right now, he’ll find a way.”
“She’ll have the biggest sendoff any Hahnville senior has ever seen, whether we play again or not,” Nugent said. “We’ll all deal with this together and come back stronger.
“I know she’ll come out better for this, because all that kid knows is how to fight and win. But just for the sake of good things happening for good people, I’d like to see her have that chance to play again.”