Coach Kevin Pope was watching his Tivy athletes compete at the Wimberley Track meet when he received the email.
The email’s contents didn’t surprise him. He had expected the coronavirus pandemic to cancel the upcoming Texas Relays, the University of Texas at Austin’s annual track and field competition that attracts athletes from across the world.
Pope had warned senior pole vaulter Andrew Stieler to anticipate possible cancellation.
Nevertheless, Stieler was crestfallen when his coach told him there would be no Texas Relays this year. He entered this season with aspirations of breaking Parks McNeil’s eight-year school record (16-01.00 feet), and he hoped to do it at the Texas Relays.
“It was a real disappointment, because (the Texas Relays) is something you work really hard for,” Stieler said. “When you lose it because of something that’s out of your control, it’s disappointing. It’s a big let down. … I feel like no one has experienced anything like this.”
Since the coronavirus outbreak, athletes have operated in an environment of uncertainty, awaiting notices of postponements and cancellations.
The NCAA has canceled all its postseason tournaments in the spring, and the NBA and MLB have both suspended their seasons. The UIL has suspended athletic competitions until March 29.
But many local coaches say they don’t know what to expect next.
Pope and men’s track coach Jason Crawford remember when the H1N1 (swine flu) pandemic delayed track and field events by a month. But other than that, the coronavirus outbreak is the strangest situation they have encountered as coaches.
They all recognize that the cancellation of all spring sports remains a possibility.
“This is uncharted territory,” Tivy Athletic Director David Jones said. “There is nothing to base anything on. There is nothing to refer back to. This is all uncharted. We don’t know what is going to happen. We are just sort of waiting and seeing what develops over the next few days.”
The coaches received another update on Monday. Tivy intended on holding practices during the two-week suspension, but the UIL released a notice Monday forbidding schools to hold practices and workouts “conducted outside the school day” until March 29.
This adds another item to their list of ever-growing concerns: Even if the season does resume, coaches will have to help their players get back in shape.
“It’s just a weird situation,” Tivy soccer coach Reece Zunker said. “It’s tough because your kids are in the best playing shape that they can be, especially toward the end of the season. It’s hard to keep that up if you aren’t playing games and practicing. But at the same time, there are a lot of studies and a lot of people involved with making these decisions, and you have to trust the decisions are the best for the community and for everyone in general.
“I would love to finish the season obviously and let my kids compete … but you kind have to be worried when you see all the professional leagues and NCAA sports being canceled,” Zunker continued. “You are almost anticipating that is what the UIL is going to do. It might not be the wrong decision. I really don’t know; I don’t have all the answers. … As hard as it is not to get out there and compete, you have to understand there is a bigger picture.”
Tivy’s coaches hope their players recognize the bigger picture right now.
Throughout the year, they encourage athletes to rely on the school’s mantra “Tivy Fight Never Dies” to overcome adversity outside of athletics.
They are hoping they apply TFND to the current situation.
“I think it’s a lesson for all kids to learn that you never know when your last chance to compete is going to be,” Crawford said. “That is kind of what the TFND spirit is about: giving it your all every time you are out there because you never know when it’s your last chance to go out and compete. People who aren’t from this area don’t know, but TFND is real. I don’t know what it is about, but it’s real. Our kids believe in it, and we try to do our best as coaches to nourish that and build that fire, so we are able to draw on that special strength, or power, or whatever you want to call it, when it’s needed.
“You hate it for the seniors … but rest assured, when play resumes, the Tivy Antlers will be ready to roll.”