A SEASON INTERRUPTED: How Nevada County high school athletes are staying sharp during sports hiatus
Colton Jenkins has been playing baseball every spring for the past 13 years.
Since he was a little boy, Jenkins has been digging into batter’s boxes, darting around diamonds and having fun with his friends as he plays the sport he loves.
But now, in his senior year at Bear River High School, the talented pitcher and potent hitter is left wondering, along with so many other student-athletes, will he get another chance to compete this season?
“It’s tough,” said Jenkins, who was an all-league selection as a junior. “It being my senior season is the most difficult part about it. The whole year, this is what I was looking forward to. And I haven’t got any offers from schools.”
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It’s been 17 days since high school sports came to a screeching halt due to the COVID-19 pandemic. When, or if, they will start back up is still unknown. The Nevada Joint Union High School District has closed its campuses until May 1, and with the mandate comes a suspension of spring athletic seasons. School districts across the state made similar moves.
The California Interscholastic Federation state office, along with the 10 section commissioners, met March 17 but made no decision regarding a possible return. The CIF and section commissioners are scheduled to meet again Friday.
With schools closed and organized team gatherings of any kind banned, athletes have been on their own to stay sharp in case there still is a season ahead.
“I’m doing whatever I can to get outside and throw around the ball,” said Jenkins. “And if it’s not throwing the ball, it’s getting outside and having some fun. The other day I played rugby with my family just to get some running in.”
Despite it being a little more than two weeks since Bear River’s last game, a 5-3 win over league foe Center, Jenkins said he is already noticing the disconnect.
“It’s been difficult, all of us feel it in our arms,” he said. “We’re trying to keep it sharp, but it’s hard when you can’t get out to the field every day and throw however many balls you throw at practice. You just feel it.”
Bear River baseball coach Eric Van Patten said he’s been in touch with his players electronically, making sure they have access to online drills that can be done at home, as well as letting them know he’s thinking about them.
“One of the things I told the guys was, ‘If there ever was a sport that typified making adjustments, it’s baseball. It’s built on the premise of making adjustments. So, life has thrown them a massive opportunity, for people like baseball players to make adjustments and still not be out of the game. Let’s make the adjustments and look forward to getting back into the game.’” he said.
For Nevada Union senior Faith Menary, her second season on the varsity track and field team has been put on pause.
“It’s been kind of sad for me, because last year was my first time doing track and it was really exciting,” she said. “I had a lot of fun getting better and getting to know the people on the team, and was looking forward to doing that again this year.”
Menary is a leaper and a sprinter for the Miners, and has been going on runs and doing anything physical she can around the house to stay in shape. She’s even enlisted her brothers to film her high jumps, so she can review her form.
Menary does track and field for fun and as a way to cross train for volleyball, her top sport. She is set to attend Louisiana Tech in the fall and play on its Division I women’s volleyball team.
“I think it’s important for me and other seniors to use this time to learn more responsibility and time management skills to prepare for college,” she said. “I think that setting aside time for specific things is really important. That’s helped me a lot.”
Another athlete who will be competing at the D-1 level in college in the near future is Tre Maronic, a Bear River senior who has committed to attend and play football at Western Illinois University.
Maronic is on a workout schedule provided by the Western Illinois program, but with local gyms closed, it has been tough for him to stick to the regimen.
“Before the gyms starting closing down, I was obviously working out and getting ready for (the college football season) on the Western Illinois program, but now that everything has closed down, even the gyms, I’ve kind of been finding anything I can do to benefit myself for college football around the house,” he said. “I go on runs, and do some hills and ladder drills outside. As far as weights, I’ll find anything I can. I was at a buddy’s house the other day and we were curling little propane tanks, just finding anything to do. Some workouts, you have to get a little crafty.”
Staying in shape
Also getting crafty with the way she keeps in shape is Bear River sophomore and tennis standout Sophia Christen.
“I walk my steer that I show every year, which is a workout,” said Christen, who cares for a steer as part of the Bear River FFA program. “I have a (steer) that I walk. He’s about 1,000 pounds and I pull him around every day.”
Christen also stays sharp in more conventional ways.
“I have a personal trainer I train with two times a week, I have a couple friends I go out and play (tennis) with. I also lift with my dad,” she said.
Nevada Union track and field head coach Kevin Selby has been proactive in keeping his athletes focused and ready for the return of the season.
“My message to the team was, ‘We are going to keep training and we aren’t going to overthink this. You need to keep training every day and you need to do it safely and you need to follow the social distancing rules,’” he said. “We didn’t talk about what ifs, we talked about staying in training and knowing the season could come back in a month.”
Selby said the school has allowed coaches to stay in contact with athletes electronically and he sends his athletes daily workouts, which is something junior distance runner Jake Slade appreciates.
“My coach, Kevin, emails us workouts and maps out distances for us, and I’ve just been trying to hit those around the neighborhood,” Slade said. “And we’ve been trying to navigate through all the snow and the weather.”
Slade said he lives near a teammate on Banner Mountain, and the two have been training together while maintaining proper social distance. He said training has been tough with the roads being icy and wet, and the trails covered in snow, but he wants to remain in shape in case the season kicks back up.
“I’ve got a lot of motivation and goals I want to hit,” he said. “I’m determined to reach those, so whatever it takes to keep on going I’m willing to do.”
Selby said track and field is one of the sports that can be done on one’s own accord.
“I’m just thankful that the venue for our sport is accessible,” said Selby. “We don’t have a facility that’s closed. You can literally go out and run in the street. I’m thankful that the rules in place statewide allow for outdoor activity.”
Other sports aren’t so fortunate.
“Nothing really keeps you in shape for swimming except for swimming, and all of swimming is shut down,” said NU swim coach Lotty Hellested. “The (Nevada Union) pool is shut down, Memorial Park is shut down, gyms are shut down. No matter how fit you are or what you’re doing, If you’re out of the pool for three weeks, you’re back to square zero as far as swimming goes.”
Hellested noted if the season does come back, every team will be dealing with similar levels of regression.
“It takes three weeks to fall out and it takes like a month to get back into some sort of shape,” she said. “It’s a bummer, we had a real fun group out.”
That’s a sentiment across the board.
“I really feel for my seniors,” NU baseball coach Ted White said. “I feel for all of them. It’s a good group, a fun group.”
Van Patten knows this is a unfortunate situation and feels for all the athletes affected by the shutdown.
“Something was taken from them,” he said. “Their opportunity to play and excel during their senior year has been cut short. I feel most for those seniors of any school. Mine especially, because they are my fellas. I feel for them because this is a special time in someone’s life that you look back on when you’re down the road in life and some memories have been stolen.”
Van Patten added he has been reaching out to colleges on behalf of his players who are hoping to play at the next level.
“That’s what I believe I owe them,” he said, “is to give them some hope and see if they still have an opportunity to play.”
To contact Sports Editor Walter Ford, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 530-477-4232.
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