Sports are often defined by numbers and often when athletes set goals a numeral is involved. If Bekah Cook had been able to compete for the Crothersville girls track team this spring she would have concluded her high school career with 18 varsity letters.
Eighteen! In this modern era of sports specialization, any athlete who finishes freshman-through-senior year by collecting 12 letters is achieving something extraordinary.
Cook, and fellow Crothersville athlete Makayla Helt, were both rushing to the conclusion of their high school careers needing calculators to determine their letter totals until the COVID-19 virus erased the spring campaign. Helt was right there with Cook.
“I was really ready for track,” Cook said.
Cook amassed her vault of letters by competing in softball (1 season), cross-country (4), volleyball (3), basketball (4), cheerleading (2) and track (3). Being grounded this spring has been quite different than four years of juggling complex practice schedules that often overlapped or bumped up against one another.
“It was pretty time-consuming,” Cook said. “But it wasn’t terrible.”
Instead of a fourth varsity letter in track this spring, Cook is adapting to earning a varsity letter in free time.
“This is the first time since sixth grade I haven’t had something to do,” she said.
Cook, who plans to attend the University of Kentucky, was wistful about her final high school sport evaporating and what the long-term reflections will be like during this time of international crisis.
“Yeah, I’ll probably regret it,” she said. “I was looking forward to it.”
Brownstown Central had a solid core collection of seniors looking to finish out careers in style. Especially early on when the possibility of still having a mini-track season was held out to the athletes almost like a carrot on a stick, Halle Hehman was working out hard.
“The hopeful track season,” she referred to it as she logged about 20 miles a week.
Distance and middle distance runners found it easier to set up practices just by running out the door of their homes compared to pole vaulters, high jumpers, shot putters and discus throwers who all need equipment and implements to work on technique.
Coaches have not been allowed to organize team practices or call their athletes together, so other than issuing general guidelines about how to stay in shape, the runners basically ran how they felt.
“That’s not much,” Hehman said of those 20 miles, “but it takes a lot of dedication.”
Her favorite event was being part of one of the longer relays with teammates.
“Every year I’ve been in the 4×800,” Hehman said.
IHSAA rules set limits for how many sports an athlete can compete in during a season. They are more flexible for smaller Crothersville than for larger Brownstown Central. Hehman was on pace for her maximum, though.
“I’m on track to get 12 varsity letters,” she said before she found out her quest was ending on letter short.
Hehman ran the open 800, as well as the relay leg of the same distance, an event that calls for a generous blend of stamina and speed.
“They require the same conditioning as long distance,” Hehman said. “I’ve gotten really comfortable at the 800.”
Comfortable enough to think of being able to record a time in the 2:30s or 2:40s and optimistic enough before the season’s cancellation to think her quartet had a shot at placing in sectionals.
Thrower Ashley Schroer was one of many athletes who kept clinging to the Dusty Springfield song lyrics “Wishin’ and Hopin’” in terms of a late jump-start to the track season.
“Part of me was thinking there might be a chance we might go back to school,” Schroer said. “My big goal was to beat the shot put school record.”
Her best of 39 feet, 9 inches was just short as a junior when she thought she would have an entire season to zoom past it. Then came a firm cancellation.
“I was excited,” Schroer said. “I was looking forward to it. It was heart-breaking and it made me sick to my stomach.”
Schroer, 18, plans to attend the University of Kentucky, but she won’t be showing up on any team rosters.
“I’m done with sports,” she said.
Trinity senior Emma Goecker, who plans to attend Midway University in Kentucky and play soccer, recorded a best time of 14:05 in the 3200 last year.
“I was hoping to break that,” she said of the 14-minute barrier.
The worst part of no season is missing the time spent with friends, and sharing team accomplishments for the last time in high school. Goecker was almost in disbelief as the closure of school then dovetailed with the elimination of the season.
“It didn’t hit me that it was over,” she said, until in-school instruction ceased. Then she thought, “Oh, this is done.”
Sports fans are theoretically aware of how much time and sweat goes into top performance, even if they never watch practices. Often, the camaraderie on teams that highlight individual events is under-rated, as well.
No matter how dedicated an athlete is, the odds are stacked against all but the very finest at a high school receiving a scholarship opportunity, or even a walk-on chance to continue in a favorite sport during college years. The competition is just that tough. So for most, senior year is it, the last time most will be able to compete in an organized setting.
That last time was ripped away from 2020 seniors by the most unusual of unanticipated circumstances, a worldwide invisible disease threat.
“I was very sad,” said Seymour senior Rhiannon McGrew upon being informed there would be no track this spring. “I actually cried.”
McGrew figured to be competing in the 300 hurdles and the 4×800 relay for the Owls until word came down track was not happening.
McGrew, 18, said she began running in seventh grade and been keeping up with good workouts to stay fit. She is earmarked to study at Ball State seeking degree work in psychology and pre-med. And maybe hurdles.
Seymour’s Makenna Sunbury is one local runner who has full-fledged plans to continue competing in college when she enrolls at Indiana-Purdue University Indianapolis. The Jaguars have women’s teams in cross-country, indoor and outdoor track and Sunbury’s specialty is long distance.
As an Owl, Sunbury recorded a personal best of 5:38 in the 1600 and 11:38 in the 3200 and was primed to lower the clockings in both events this spring, inevitable payoffs for hard work.
Instead, her PRs are frozen in place until college just as much of planet earth is due to the coronavirus.
“It never crossed my mind it would be cancelled,” Sunbury said of the season.
Since her father Spencer is the coach, the younger Sunbury, 17, probably was the first member of her team to learn there would be no racing this season.
“I definitely was sad,” she said. “But I totally understand.”
Knowing she will resume competition next school year is a boost for Sunbury. She has kept up practicing for more than simple fitness, but for her long-range goals, particularly since her first college season in the fall will be cross-country, her favorite.
“I’ve been trying to run like the season wasn’t cancelled,” Sunbury said. “I just like going out and clearing my head.”
Brownstown: Keeli Darlage, Grace Garland, Halle Hehman, Emily Koch, Zodie Otting, Ashley Schroer, Emma Winks.
Crothersville: Bekah Cook, Makayla Helt, Isabell Lewis
Seymour: Giselle Gaytan-Julian, Elizabeth Hougland, Rhiannon McGrew, Ashley Salas Trujillo, Jessica Sanchez Sofia Segovia Nunez, Makenna Sunbury.
Trinity Lutheran: Mya Nay, Emma Groecker, Mary Matthews.