The calls to his seniors came first.
Once Battlefield High School head baseball coach Jay Burkhart heard the announcement Monday by Gov. Ralph Northam that Virginia public and private schools were closed for the rest of the school year because of the coronavirus pandemic, he phoned his six players whose high school baseball careers were suddenly over for good now that the spring sports season had been cancelled.
He consoled. He encouraged. Most of all he listened as the six expressed a wide range of emotions. Burkhart had a feeling schools would not return, but he still struggled to process the reality of the situation. He said it was as if he heard the news in slow motion instead of real time.
“I wanted to reach out and let them know I was thinking of them and wanted to know how they were coping [and] reacting,” Burkhart said.
Burkhart told the players, who will have a chance to play in college, that he still plans to do things like playing a three-game series and holding a year-end party to honor them once restrictions are lifted.
“I wanted them to look forward to something in a time of questions of why,” Burkhart said “It’s a tricky situation and all I want is everyone to be safe and healthy. Very crazy and unique situation.”
When it was first announced earlier this month that Prince William County Public Schools were postponed for a few days and then until April 14, Potomac High School senior Braden Mack remained optimistic that he would still have a final prep baseball season. The regular season was scheduled to start March 16, but there was still time to play part of season if schools re-opened right after Easter break.
"As the time to return was being expanded, that's what really motivated not only me, but the rest of the team because we knew that putting in the time on a consistent basis, while following all safety regulations established, would make Potomac stand out this year if we were lucky enough to return," Mack said.
Mack watched Northam’s address Monday. Soon after, Mack’s phone blew up as his friends began sharing their thoughts.
Potomac head baseball coach Mike Covington also sent a text to his seniors confirming the news. Covington told his seniors how proud he was of them for all the work they’d put in as well as how they matured into leaders.
“Personally, that’s what hit the hardest for me, seeing each of them say thank you as if it were a goodbye for good,” Mack said.
Mack was initially stunned by Monday's announcement the high school spring sports season was cancelled.
"After hearing the news today it was a hard shock at first to think that our chapter of high school won't end that way we imagined," said Mack, who has signed with Cornell for baseball. "I think I can speak for most of our players, here, we know it's not the end of our careers. We'll have to write our legacies in a more innovative way and keep moving forward together."
Osbourn Park senior baseball player Jack Braley had a sense that the school year would be cancelled even before Northam’s announcement, but it was still hard to hear it. Like his fellow seniors, he looked forward to graduation, prom and senior night. But most of all, he looked forward to the baseball season he had high hopes for.
“I wanted to finish my senior year so bad,” said Braley, who will play at Christopher Newport. “It’s sad to me that I am finished with high school and went my last day and had my last practice without even realizing it. I wish I had appreciated the time in high school more before it unexpectantly came to an end.”
The Virginia High School League said Monday that its crisis management team is meeting Tuesday to consider spring-sports options once the school year is over. The VHSL will then announce its decision later Tuesday.
“I am sure it’s not the end though,” Mack said. “I know for a fact everyone is working around the clock to be able to put something together if possible.”