SPORTS - "Senior athletes at Bear River High ask, 'What if...'"

BEAR RIVER HIGH – By Cari Doutre – April 22, 2020

Sports is more than just a game or a hobby for many student athletes at Bear River High.

For them, it has taken years to accomplish the skill and talent it takes to compete at the varsity playing level in high school. But what happens when your final season of high school sports is snatched away and forever gone?

Official news hit high school seniors across the state of Utah especially hard when Utah Governor Gary Herbert announced on April 14, 2020 that all public schools will remain dismissed, or under a soft closure, for the remaining 2019-20 school year. This decision was made to protect the residents of Utah from further deaths and illness caused by COVID-19, or coronavirus, a world-wide pandemic.

The Utah High School Activities Association followed Herbert’s news with their own announcement – all high school spring sports in Utah are cancelled.

That news devastated many senior athletes at Bear River High as well as their coaches, parents, family members and the community. It was not how they imagined their high school career academically and athletically, end.

“The worst part is living with the ‘what-ifs,’” said Kati Gibbs, a senior at Bear River High and a member of the varsity softball team.

It is those missed opportunities her senior year that Gibbs will never experience. She isn’t alone with those thoughts.

“Growing up playing baseball, I always looked forward to playing my senior year but now that we are done, I feel like I never finished what I started. This unexpected stop is really hard because I never expected to be playing my last game. It just happened,” added Dillon Marble also a senior at Bear River High and a member of the varsity baseball team.

Finding closure may not be easy for some of these student athletes, especially for those that set important goals to accomplish this year.

“I’m really heartbroken that our season has to end this way. This was to be our year to accomplish our goals,” said Rheagan Hartfiel, a senior member of the Bear River High girls’ golf team.

“We’ve all worked so hard to get to where we are and then it’s just gone all too fast for us to comprehend. I was really looking forward to this year, especially based off of my performances last year in track. There was a lot to look forward to,” added Klayson Roberts from the Bear River High track team.

Makenzie Lorimer, also a senior on the track team, echoed Roberts’ thoughts.

“The goals I had set for the season are no longer achievable,” Lorimer added.

Watching those hopes and dreams disappear for these young athletes isn’t easy for the adults who have led and guided these student athletes at school and on the competitive playing field of sports.

“I've shed some tears the past few days, and that doesn't happen often,” said Jim Thomas, head coach of the Bear River High girls’ golf team.

“These kids have not only worked the past four years and put in countless hours of practice and preparation, but some have practiced since they were little kids. To have the rug pulled out from under them is just sad,” Thomas added.

Don Hawes, Bear River High’s varsity baseball coach and Danny Esplin, head coach for Bear River High’s water polo team, understand what it’s like to play competitive sports at the high school level.

Both men are graduates of Bear River High but unlike the class of 2020, they were able to finish their final high school sports seasons. This scenario is almost too hard to image for Hawes and Esplin.

“It is a difficult time for athletes, and they may always look back and say, ‘what if,’” Esplin said.

“Those seniors are missing out on so many experiences, not just sports. It is hard, not just for them but for the parents, families, and their friends that come to support them,” added Hawes.

This news has been especially hard on Park. As Bear River High’s athletic director, he has been there every step of the way and watching these senior athletes grown and thrive, only to see it end too quickly.

“It’s heartbreaking,” said Park with tears in his eyes. “So many of them have been looking forward to this year. You always have that optimistic start of the year and then it just stops abruptly.”

The emotions surrounding this decision hasn’t been easy to absorb for all senior athletes. It takes time to accept the truth but still hurts along the healing path.

“When I first found out that there was going to be no spring sports, I was devastated. My senior year of track was looking so good and it was ripped away from me. It wasn’t fair. The memories that I would have made would not happen. The friendships developed, no longer there,” said Lorimer.

“It’s really devastating. We had put in a lot of work just for everything to be shut down before it even started. This year was supposed to be the big payoff after all the hard work, and we feel robbed by that,” said Caeden Miller, a varsity senior on the Bear River High boys’ lacrosse team.

“It’s definitely not the way we would have thought this year would go,” added Gibbs.

What is next for high school seniors, and not just the athletes at Bear River High, is still undetermined. Administration and staff at Bear River High are currently in the process of finding a solution to graduation, prom and other end of the year events.

Now it is time for the healing to begin. While these student athletes understand the circumstances in the world today, and the reason for these decisions, they are doing their best to accept it all.

“I am trying my hardest to be positive about the whole situation. I have found that there are a lot of things I take for granted, as well as things I have to be grateful for. I have been told many times by many people that I have no control over the things that are happening, but I do have control of how I react to them,” Lorimer said.

“I know it’s to keep us all safe, which is good, but it still is such a bummer,” added Roberts.

But those adults that know exactly what these student athletes are capable of have no doubt they will recover from their disappointments.

“If any group can handle it, it is this group of seniors in all sports. Having been able to watch them prepare for their seasons and see them every day in the halls, they are full of passion, energy, positivity, are relentless and full of grit,” said Hawes.

“I do know one thing though, after having the amazing opportunity to be around these kids for the past several years, there is something truly special about them. They are wise beyond their years and they understand far more than I ever did at their age about life,” said Thomas.

“This bunch of kids are amazing. They will all achieve whatever they set their minds to. Yes, this is a tough test for them, their parents, coaches and so many but through all of the tears and heart ache, these kids will probably come out of it stronger than ever,” Thomas added.

“If anybody can handle it, it’s these kids,” Park said.

And some of the student athletes already have come out stronger, more resilient and wiser because of this experience.

“I won’t let this define me and I will be a stronger person,” added Hartfiel.