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Uncertain times ahead when sports return

 

April 15, 2020

ENMU Athletics

Riley Price's first season as Eastern New Mexico's baseball coach was certainly one to remember, but not for reasons he'd like.

Think spending time in isolation is frustrating?

Think of how spring coaches feel.

These were supposed to be the days they were teaching and leading their teams. These were the weeks and months when some high school seniors were supposed to get their last chances to be noticed by colleges, when college seniors were getting their last chances to compete, period.

Now these are the days, weeks and months of social distancing, of Skyping and Zooming, of thinking about wearing surgical masks and rubber gloves, instead of catchers’ masks and baseball gloves.

A bizarre spring for certain.

“Ah yes,” Clovis High boys track and field head coach Mark Sena said. “It’s very much changed from what we were expecting.”

Riley Price was excited about his first year as head coach of the Eastern New Mexico University baseball team. And because college baseball starts in mid-winter, Price had already gotten through some of that season.

Well, with the uniqueness of the COVID-19 situation, Price certainly won’t forget his first year as Greyhounds head coach. But he’d probably like to.

“It’s definitely been a weird scenario that we’re just going to have to wait out,” Price said. “Our No. 1 concern is our players’ safety. As much as our guys who are in town want to come to our facility, they can’t. So they have to get creative, work out in their backyard and find ways to get better.”

Sena’s track and field team managed to get one meet in on March 12, the Thursday everything started going haywire as far as the coronavirus shutting down everyday life. Clovis’ meet — the Bulldog Relays in Plainview —was originally scheduled for March 13, but with rain in the forecast for that day, it was moved back to the 12th.

And the Clovis boys won the meet. But there was a sense of foreboding.

“No one knew the extent of this,” Sena said. “When we got on the bus, one of the things that we were joking to each other about was, ‘Hey, we better enjoy this one because we may not get another one.’”

And they didn’t.

Later that night, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham ordered public schools be closed for three weeks, meaning no spring sports at least through April 3. Then, 11 days later, Lujan Grisham issued a stay-at-home order. It wasn’t long before the governor ordered schools to remain closed for the rest of the academic year. And that officially meant no more spring sports in 2020.

Which also meant the end of high school athletics for seniors.

It was frustrating enough for Wildcats senior T.J. Gregg, but he already knew his running career would continue at Texas Tech. Not so for a lot of Clovis athletes hoping to get noticed by college programs.

“Kids like Brandon Mason and Kris Byrd, who were hoping this season would be something special for them and would lead to something else, and even others … they don’t get that shot,” Sena said.

Once schools started shutting down, ENMU announced it was planning to resume as normal on March 30.

“There was always that date thrown out there,” Price said, “but behind the scenes there were people who didn’t have a good feeling, thinking that it was going to keep getting pushed back. .. The reality was that the virus was getting worse.”

As the virus’ extent grew, so did the steps to contain it, and Eastern — along with its spring sports — was soon shut down for the semester.

For a college coach like Price, his whole process was affected.

“This has thrown a kink into a lot of decision-making as far as recruiting,” he said. “Luckily for us, we recruited really hard last fall so we were able to see a lot of the talent that we wanted to pursue. But we’re still kind of playing that waiting game.”

The NCAA did announce that this truncated season wouldn’t hurt athletes’ eligibility; they are being granted an extra year of it.

“But it depends,” Price said, “on if it doesn’t make sense academically (for the seniors) to come back. If they want to get their master’s (degree), there are opportunities. … There are a lot of pros and a lot of cons to this, for sure. I would say the biggest pro for our program as a whole is to keep making our facilities better at this time.”

 
 

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