Overcoming adversity seemed to be a theme this season for the Southwest Mississippi Community College softball team.
Multiple rain-outs and conditions with the field forcing location changes for their home games are just a couple of the obstacles the Bears have faced this year.
But, the biggest challenge of all was dropped in their laps earlier this week. The National Junior College Athletics Association announced Monday that it has canceled the seasons for spring sports, effective immediately, due to the spread of coronavirus.
“I was kind of shocked and then you have to send it out to the girls. But with social media to me it was kind of unfair to the kids because by the time that I got the text from my athletic director, my girls started texting me because they already saw it on social media,” SMCC softball head coach Shea Johnson said.
It was then when Johnson contacted his assistant coach Hannah Price and the pair worked on a statement to send to the team, explaining their options. One was to return next year by not having this season of eligibility count against them.
Johnson praised his team for the amount of work players gave to prepare for the season.
“You realized that these kids put the time in the weight room and they put the time in getting ready for the sport,” he said.
Like the SMCC baseball team, the softball team was having a solid season and were on the verge of starting conference play. SMCC was set to open MACJC play, Wednesday, on the road against Pearl River.
The news handed down affects the Bear sophomores more than the freshman as some may have watched their time at SMCC end so abruptly.
Sophomore is Allie Hunt said the news and the situation was a lot to digest.
“It’s been a lot. I didn’t expect for our season to be taken away from us,” she said. “I didn’t expect my last game to be two weeks ago. It has been hard but it is out of my control and there is nothing that I can do about it. The only thing is that I think that we had something to prove this season and it was taken away from us.”
But Hunt said that she is weighing her options on whether or not to return to SMCC or move on. Another who is in the same situation is fellow pitcher Jade Latham. She admits that it is still early in the process and she is unsure of her future plans.
“I’m thinking about maybe coming back because I don’t know what I want to do yet,” she said. “I may give the extra year of eligibility a chance.”
One player who is planning on moving on with her academics is Madison Newman, who has her sights set on her future occupation.
“I’m actually going to be done with softball,” she said. “I’m going to Mississippi State to be an animal science major and go to vet school, so I really need to start taking my animal classes to further my education. There aren’t a lot of those options at Southwest for those classes.”
Newman adds that she is very thankful of her time in Summit at SMCC.
“Whenever I got to Southwest, I didn’t think that I was going to have as great of a time that I had,” she said. “My teachers have been amazing.”
For Johnson — whose career spans over three decades — has felt a wide-range of emotions as a coach, but the one felt Monday after telling his team that their season is over was unique.
“It was a different kind of hurt,” he said. “This was one that took a while to sink in emotionally for our kids. In the whole scheme of things in athletics it is the camaraderie that you miss, not the wins and losses. It is the relationships with the kids.”
At the end of the day, Johnson is disappointed that his girls couldn’t build upon the momentum built from last year’s record-breaking team.
“It wasn’t about the record, we set the record last year,” he said. “It was about getting in the regional and I think that we had a good shot. It is not often that you put together a group of young ladies who played as well as they did together and as hard as they did together, and I think that this group had a shot to really do some special things. The important thing to me is that all 19 of these young ladies stay healthy and their families stay healthy and they don’t deal with what we are dealing with (globally).”