In the grand scheme of life, sports might be pretty insignificant. Then again, they’re very significant.
In challenging times, sports have always been there to provide a sense of hope for me. A sense that however bad things might be in “the real world,” at least I’ve got a sport to play or a sport to watch. I’d imagine that’s the way it is for a lot of people around the country.
As the difficult circumstances surrounding the COVID-19 virus continue and more sports leagues — professional and amateur — continue to suspend, postpone or cancel their season, it’s hard to fathom that sports, at least for a little while, won’t be there to help us get through the tough times.
When news broke yesterday that the NCAA was canceling all of its remaining winter and spring sports — including the men’s and women’s basketball tournaments — I couldn’t help but feel an overwhelming sadness.
It was a tough decision, but probably the right decision. The seriousness of this pandemic, obviously, takes precedent. The health of the public is always going to be the top priority.
That doesn’t make the pause on sports easier to stomach.
I’m sad, above all, for the players, particularly senior student-athletes who will miss out on a proper conclusion to their college careers — for many of them, their athletic careers as a whole.
As someone who was an athlete in high school, the end of my playing days were tough to take, but at the very least I got to end it on the basketball court and in the locker room with my teammates.
It’s unfortunate, unfair really, that players like Lamar Stevens won’t get the ending they deserve.
“I was really hurt,” Stevens said on a podcast earlier today with college basketball analyst, Jeff Goodman. “Being a senior, being a guy who hasn’t made the tournament in the previous three years and knowing that it was going to be a reality this year.”
Stevens ends his time in Happy Valley just seven points shy of passing Talor Battle to become the program’s all-time leading scorer, a feat he would have undoubtedly passed in the team’s scheduled Big Ten Tournament game against Indiana.
“Not having any control over it was tough,” Stevens continued on Goodman’s podcast. “Being seven points away from becoming the school’s all-time leading scorer, my heart broke, honestly. I felt like I gave everything I had for this program and this school to get to that point.”
“I wanted to experience that with my teammates and our coaches. Have the Penn State community rally around us for something we haven’t done for nine years. I had a lot of excitement for that. It was something I was really proud of. To see it all end this way, it really hurts.”
As Stevens alluded to, he and the rest of the team miss out on hearing Penn State’s name pop up on CBS on Selection Sunday. The signal that the program’s near decade-long NCAA Tournament drought would be over.
I think about senior members of the Penn State Wrestling team — the moments that Vincenzo Joseph and Mark Hall delivered on the mat in Rec Hall or at the Big Ten Championships or at the NCAA Championships.
Joseph leaves a two-time NCAA Champion and three-time NCAA finalist. His thrilling upset as a freshman over No. 1 ranked Isaiah Martinez in 2017 ( he pinned the heavily favored Illini wrestler) is a signature moment in the already storied history of Penn State Wrestling.
Hall ends his career a three-time Big Ten Champion, three-time NCAA finalist and the 2017 NCAA National Champion at 174 pounds.
They both miss out on their shots to become national champions once more in 2020.
There are senior members of the Penn State Men’s Hockey team, who have helped turn the program from Division I upstart to a Big Ten contender.
Senior Liam Folkes delivered perhaps the greatest moment in the team’s young history. In 2017, he scored the game-winning breakaway goal against Wisconsin in double overtime of the Big Ten Tournament title game.
The 10-man senior class of Brandon Biro, Folkes, Blake Gober, James Gobetz, Will Holtfoster, Peyton Jones, Kris Myllari, Nikita Pavylchev, Denis Smirnov and Nate Sucese, at the very least ended their college careers by capturing the Big Ten regular season title.
But they won’t get the chance to capture another tournament crown or compete for Penn State’s first Frozen Four appearance.
Despite a few early losses, the Men’s Lacrosse team had the talent and firepower to get back to the Final Four and win a national championship. Seniors like Grant Ament, Dylan Foulds and Mac O’Keefe are robbed of that opportunity.
There are names I didn’t mention from the other Penn State winter and spring sports. For the sake of time, I can’t highlight them all specifically here, but there’s no diminishing their impact. They all made their mark in Penn State history.
We will go on. Sports at Penn State and across the globe will resume sometime in the future.
For the time being, though, we must get through all of this without sports to provide us that joy, provide us the hope.
We won’t have the power of Stevens driving to the hoop for a basket or the energy of Hall driving his opponent to the mat for a fall to take us away from the struggles.
More importantly, the players themselves won’t ever get those kinds of experiences again in a Penn State uniform.
The grind of the countless hours, days and even years that they’ve put in for their sport. For many of them, the chance to compete for a conference or national championship is the culmination of all of that hard work. The reward for the effort.
It didn’t end on their terms.
That’s the hardest part to swallow. The abrupt finality of it all. A tough way to be reminded of the significance of sports in difficult times.