LAKE CHARLES – “That was the hardest thing I had to do because now we can’t be together,” said McNeese baseball head coach Justin Hill after meeting with members of the media on Wednesday for the first time since all spring sports were canceled for the rest of the season on Saturday.
Hill was joined by softball head coach James Landreneau and track and field head coach Brendon Gilroy in the joint presser to discuss how their teams are handling the cancellation of the spring season due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“We met as a team when the decision was made to suspend the season until at least March 30 and that the NCAA canceled the postseason and College World Series. It was silent for about 15 minutes then Jake Dickerson stood up and said ‘coach, all we want to do right now is to be together’.”
Things moved extremely fast in the decision making over the course of 2-3 days. Last Wednesday was the start of the conference basketball tournament. After that day’s games, a decision was made to play the remainder of the tourney in front of zero fans, then the next day on Thursday, the tournament was canceled right before tip-off of that day’s first game.
That trickled into a shutdown of spring events until at least March 30. But the next day, on Saturday the 14th, the Southland Conference shut down all spring sports for the remainder of the season, including any organized or voluntary workouts for the next few weeks. All facilities that are normally open to the public had to be locked up.
“Everything we want is to be together,” said Hill holding back tears. “That’s why closing the building that day was the hardest thing to do because now, we can’t be together.”
“The first day was really shocking because we were on the road and we have to turn around,” said Landreneau. “I bring them in and tell them we’re not going to play, that the weekend’s been canceled. I told them that there’s going to be a lot of speculation in the world and to don’t jump to conclusions. It’s all about the facts. But within a few minutes, everything’s been canceled to the 30th. The kids took that in stride and we can deal with it.
“I could tell some concern on their face but I was trying to keep them positive but within a couple of hours on the bus, they’re seeing on social media that the postseason has been canceled so when we get off the bus, I have to meet with them again and give them more information.
“You really feel for your players. Your seniors.”
Gilroy found out about the cancellation of the NCAA Indoor Championships while meeting with his team on Thursday.
“At the time we didn’t know that the entire spring would be canceled. We’re here for the kids. We’re going to do whatever we can for them. That’s what we’re in the business for.”
McNeese was set to open up its home outdoor season this past Saturday with the annual running of the Cowboy Relays – Bob Hayes Louisiana Challenge, and even had a superstar schedule to run the hurdles – Lolo Jones.
But all that changed in the blink of the eye and the sports world, or make that the entire world, took a different path.
Gilroy has over 20 international athletes on his men’s and women’s squads. Some are trying to get back to their home countries but most will be staying in town.
“They were afraid they were going to be getting kicked out of the dorms,” said Gilroy. “I told them that’s not going to happen. The administration had done a tremendous job in handling this situation.”
“There are so many emotions going on,” said Hill. “There’s confusion. There’s frustration. There’s anger. There are all of these things because you don’t know. I think that’s the biggest thing is when you don’t know and you’re going through this entire process in a matter of moments. I think that’s why we just sat there in silence.
“A couple of guys said something. Hunter Reeves, and if you know Hunter Reeves and his story and everything he’s gone through with the struggles on the field last year and the immense success he’s come through with this year. He’s a guy who has a chance to play professional baseball and make money playing a sport he loves, he walks out and screams into the sky.
“The next day was better. Once you figured out what hit you, what’s going on, the human spirit can handle a lot of things.”
“This is definitely an emotional rollercoaster for our kids,” said Landreneau. “We always talk at the beginning of our season that life is going to happen but can’t say which form of life it’s going to be whether it’s a sickness or personal issues, financial issues, injuries and things that happen. Is this ever a time of life happening and it’s a unique time for our country and the world.”
So what’s next?
That’s a very broad question to answer considering the constant changes being decided upon.
McNeese Interim Athletics Director Tanner Stines has been meeting on conference calls with the other conference ADs and league office personnel every other day and relaying those decisions to the head coaches so they can inform their players of any changes before it hits social media and they find out from those sources.
“Our administration as been tremendous,” said Hill. “From Tanner to Dr. Burckel, for Tanner to get me the information before it went public so I could tell my players first, that was huge.
“Tanner and the administration have been tremendous in keeping us updated on the matters,” said Landreneau with Gilroy agreeing.
The NCAA is looking at a proposal to allow spring student-athletes to return for an extra year but that is in the early stages that probably won’t be decided on until the summertime.
Meanwhile, at McNeese, student-athletes are still doing their classwork via online courses and reporting to study hall and tutoring sessions, but any workout or training activities will have to be done on their own and off-site.
And lets not forget men’s and women’s golf, tennis and spring football, volleyball and soccer are also being affected.
So many questions need to be answered, but with the way things change at every passing minute, those answers could be changing just as frequently as well.