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Spring coaches lament cancellations

Aurora Dahl (left) and Courtney Reitmeyer (second) will miss their sophomore and senior track seasons, respectively.

By Jerry DeRoche
IRON RIVER/CRYSTAL FALLS — Normally at this time, the postseason of spring sports would have either already started or would be just around the corner. Locally, boys and girls golf teams, boys and girls track teams and boys tennis teams would be preparing for the most important time of their seasons.
    But, of course, there is nothing normal about this spring. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has turned ordinary life upside down and that stretches across every aspect of life.
    For high school athletes, teams and coaches, the social distancing and crowd restrictions handed down by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer ended their seasons before they even got started. For the senior athletes, that meant their final opportunity to compete disappeared. For underclassmen, a whole year of their careers was gone. For those teams with goals of winning or defending championships, those dreams were vanquished by a far greater opponent than they could have imagined.
    Understandably, emotions have run high over the cancellation of spring sports. The Reporter asked the Forest Park and West Iron County spring sports coaches to offer their comments.
    BOYS, GIRLS GOLF (coach Harold Payne)
    The sign-up was posted in the office, students were signing up, assistant coach Pat Sommers and I were looking forward to beginning practice the week after break, and it all came to a halt. Initially, we were anticipating a delay to the start of the season, but not the cancellation of the entire season. It is an understatement to say I was disappointed that the entire season was cancelled. More importantly, the student-athletes who participate in these sports will not have the opportunity to compete. I have spoken to a few of our golfers and they were so looking forward to competing, especially our seniors. Plus, the weather was cooperative in late April to have begun the season on time.
    Overall, I understand the decision to cancel the spring sports season. As there were many unknowns due to COVID-19, and as other states closed schools and cancelled sports for the year, it became apparent that Michigan would follow suit. The disappointment was evident with everyone I spoke with.
    Golf is unique in that it is both an individual sport, but also a team sport. Another aspect to golf is the relationships that develop with golfers from other teams. While they compete against one another, they get to know their competitors on a level where friendships develop. Therefore, our golfers look forward to seeing golfers from other schools they haven’t seen since last year.
    While you work with each golfer to improve their game, for me, the best part of coaching is the relationship you develop with each person. For my seniors, I have truly enjoyed the time I have spent with you and I wish you the best as you move on.  For the underclassman, I look forward to next year.
    BOYS AND GIRLS TRACK (boys coach Erich Ziegler, girls coach Kurt Anderson)
    Kurt Anderson
    As you can imagine, I was disappointed to hear of the season being cancelled. Spring is a special time of year at school, and even more so for a track coach. It is tough to miss out on not only the season, but the bonds that Coach Ziegler and I get to make with these young men and women outside of the school. Additionally, we both enjoy seeing the progress that each of our athletes make. The self-satisfaction they get from their hard work is something we take pride in being a part of. We will certainly miss that.
    Lastly, our heart goes out to the athletes that miss out on an entire season of their high school career, especially the seniors. When I spoke with my senior athletes (Kailee Abts and Mercedes Simmons) after we found out the season was cancelled, I shared with them how heartbroken I was for them. As FP alumni and former athletes, it is an honor for us to share the last season, the last time that they will ever wear that Forest Park jersey and compete for our school. We miss out on that opportunity, but we won’t forget the past years we shared with them and wish them the best of luck in their future.
    Erich Ziegler (a letter sent to Forest Park track athletes)
    We hope that this letter finds everyone well. As track and field coaches, we wanted to reach out to our student-athletes that we were so looking forward to working with this spring. We hope that it can provide some solace to those student-athletes, as well as all of our Forest Park students. These words were not easy, and something that we have been thinking about since the announcement that we would not have a season.
    We are in a historic time. Please do your best to enjoy these moments that we have. It will be something that will be remembered in the history books, and something that you can tell others about from a first-hand account.
    Spend time with your families. Spend time outside. Follow the health guidelines. Keep learning and keep staying active. Please be safe.
    To our seniors: We have truly missed the opportunity to be able to work with you during your last season at Forest Park. We have enjoyed the positive relationship that we have built, and we look forward to staying in touch to witness your successes in the future. Please don’t forget where you came from and stay in touch.
    As former FP student-athletes ourselves, this school district is very special to us. We have faith in the track and field program and its continued success. Most importantly, we are proud of making a difference in the lives of our student-athletes and helping you to grow as people. We are thinking of you all.
    Life will go on, and we will persevere with Trojan Power.
    BOYS, GIRLS GOLF (coach Mark Martini)
    For all athletes - fall, winter, spring - the cancellation of a season that they are looking forward to is heartbreaking. Athletics are one of the pillars in the building of an education.
    Turning to our teams, I feel especially bad for the seniors - Mya Grubbs and Anna Malmquist on the girls team and Peyton Williams, Trey Bociek, Noah Thomson and Robbie Quayle on the boys team.
    Life throws curve balls and you have to adjust to those curve balls, but this particular bunch of seniors, both boys and girls, it’s really difficult. They wanted to defend their U.P. titles and to finish the year with another U.P. title.
    Trey looking for third straight individual U.P. title and (junior) Nathan Thomson wanted to defeat him.
    We had goals, like low team score, etc. The boys were U.P. runner-up as freshmen and won the last two. The girls wanted to end the year with another one.
    BOYS TENNIS (coach Joe Serbentas)
    With the season cancellation comes disappointment for sure. I know the guys on the tennis team were really looking forward to defending their back-to-back GNC championships the last two seasons. Also, we were probably the favorites in the U.P. tournament having only lost two starters from last year’s runner-up finish.  
    Missing a year in any sport really hurts the younger players in the program because just missing that one year of experience critically hurts you in crunch time situations or even for gaining confidence and momentum through a season that you can bring into the next season. This gap year away from sports will affect all athletes. From a coach’s perspective I certainly miss working with the guys ... there is a special bond that we have with our teams and those memories will not be there for the 2020 season.
    One saving grace for my particular program is I have my entire roster coming back next year as we were loaded with mostly juniors (there were no seniors on the roster). Also, we will have the two-time player of the year in Division 2 coming back next year in Holden Ross. Having this break in sports has been tough on all of us as players and coaches but it should reinvigorate all of us and give us all an understanding of how valuable sports seasons can be for a community and schools.
    GIRLS TRACK (coach Kristi Berutti)
    Losing our spring sports was hard to accept. For many athletes, sports balances the stress of academics. We left on March 13 looking forward to starting track season right after spring break. My girls roster had 39 athletes - the largest number in years - with 17 freshmen, nine sophomores, eight juniors and five seniors. Track is tough both physically and mentally, so I was super excited to have such a big team this season. April and May are the best part of the school year for me. I love getting outside with the girls and pushing them to excel.  
    My heart breaks for all of our Wykon athletes. My daughter Madison runs track and plays golf. She missed out on U.P. Finals for two sports. My five seniors never knew they competed in their last meet a year ago. Brittany Cunningham is the heart of our team; always cheering for everyone. Kali Dennis has been with me during cross country and track for three years. She was running her fastest times and I was so looking forward to seeing what she could do this season. Emily Nelson joined us last year and she was a force, placing third in discus and fourth in shotput in her first U.P. Finals. Emily was also part of the 3,200 and 1,600 relay teams. Lexi Pellizzer has also been with me for three years. She is a girl that really cares about fitness and health and always encouraged her teammates to push on. My fifth senior is Courtney Reitmeyer. This one really chokes me up. “Court” has been my go-to for three years. She sprints and runs middle distance. Last season she competed at Finals in all four relays and has qualified for Finals every year. Courtney is an athlete that never let me down. She always gave 100 percent without complaining.
    I wish these seniors the best of luck and will miss them. We have a talented group of eighth-grade girls coming next year to join our sophomores and juniors. Hopefully my girls put some effort into running this summer and we will come back bigger and faster next season. There are always records to be broken!  #Wykonstrong #Wykontrack

    BOYS TRACK (coach Zach Goodman)
    It’s a shame that this year we won’t be able to have a track season due to this pandemic, but when all is said and done it is what it is. This was out of our control from the beginning, but we still hoped that something of a season could be salvaged.
    Clearly it’s hard on everyone, especially our seniors who won’t ever really get that closer of their final season, but this is also a great overall lesson for them to realize you have to make the best of every moment you have because you might not get a “next season.”
    It’s frustrating, it’s challenging, but nonetheless we have tough kids that will get through this and be stronger and more able.