Rookie coaches sidelined

Julie Lemming’s emotions matched the pendulum swing of officials’ discussions, yo-yoing with the maybe-we-will and maybe-we-won’t thoughts and opinions expressed.

As the deadly COVID-19 virus infected more and more people in Indiana, debate fueled by uncertainty focused on whether students would return to public schools for classroom instruction at all this 2019-20 school year and if the regular menu of spring high school sports would play out.

The answers were no and no.

Lemming was one of seven area high school coaches at Seymour, Trinity Lutheran, Brownstown and Crothersville set to make her debut carrying a clipboard or wearing a whistle in their first season supervising a team.

Just as fourth-year students were shut out of senior-year participation, the coaches were sidelined.

“Up and down, up and down,” said Lemming, Trinity’s new girls tennis coach. “It sure would have been nice.”

Lemming was one of three new coaches earmarked to take over a sport at Trinity, joining boys and girls track coach Mark Pinnow and golf coach Doug Sabotin, plus Seymour tennis coach Tapanga Burgess, Brownstown golf coach Brent Hattabaugh, and Crothersville’s Eric Hilton in baseball and Bailey Jeffries in softball.

Lemming accepted the position over the winter after mulling whether she would have time for the work in addition to teaching language arts.

“I completed my training and I was really looking forward to it,” Lemming said.

High school seniors are the athletes most harmed, with no chance to make up for their lost season. Professionals in basketball, hockey and baseball are likely to pick up after intermissions. Even many college seniors will have another eligibility chance.

These newcomer coaches were just getting to know athletes they will never coach. Several teams conducted early-season practices prior to spring break and while the athletes scattered with the knowledge the encroaching coronavirus was a growing threat they also hoped a possible late-starting, shortened season would substitute for the usual schedule.

“I had a lot of hope for it,” said Hilton of the mini-season Plan B. “I was hoping for a condensed season. I think we had a bright future.”

Hilton, 43, calls himself “a long-time baseball guy” whose No. 1 team rooting interest is the Cincinnati Reds.

“I go back to Pete Rose,” Hilton said.

Hilton, who was hired for the job last fall, said he played baseball as a youngster, shortstop and center-field.

“I had a good glove,” he said.

Hilton was very active coaching youth baseball teams and was looking forward to moving into the high school ranks. Instead, with the cancellation of the entire season, “It was kind of the big empty.”

Pinnow, who was taking over both the girls and boys track programs for Trinity said he was “a little bit” bummed out by the shutdown. “It would have been my first coaching,” he said.

Pinnow was a late hire to coach the teams, though he had a wealth of running experience, running the hurdles for Trinity while in high school and also running hurdles in college at Valparaiso.

Unlike some of the other sports programs, the Cougars had only a handful of track competitors expected to go out for the teams.

Burgess was a good tennis player, competing for four years in high school at Milan and then for Franklin College. A Spanish teacher in the classroom, she said she has long hoped to have the opportunity to coach.

“I knew I wanted to be a teacher and I’ve always loved sports,” Burgess said. “But I didn’t know the position was going to be open.”

She first discussed the Seymour coaching job with the administration last fall and and got more excited about leading the Owls as the months passed.

“I did have quite a bit of time to prepare,” she said.

Burgess was just getting to know her team through conditioning drills and early practices when the brakes were put on the season.

“There was a lot of uncertainty, but I was totally invested in getting to know the girls,” she said.

Like everyone else involved in the Indiana high school sports world, Burgess immersed herself in the fingers-crossed, wishing-and-hoping stage that part of the season could be salvaged starting in early May and running into early June. But the optimism was unrealistic.

“I was super disappointed,” Burgess said. “Now I don’t even get to start.”