High School seniors, teammates, lose final spring sports season

Keith Skenandore
Sports Editor

Seymour Thunder Softball Team will not get the opportunity to defend their WIAA Division 2 State Championship due to the cancellation of the Spring Sport Season. – Times Press File Photo

With the beautiful spring weather upon us, it’s that time of year were parents of athletes should be sitting in the stands watching their son or daughter participating in baseball, softball, soccer or track.

On the golf course, the parents would be walking along with their high school golfer watching them drive, chip and putt the ball.

All of the 2020 spring sports seasons has been taken away as the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association (WIAA) Board of Control voted on Tuesday, April 21, to cancel the spring sports regular-season competitions and the Tournament Series due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

“We want to extend our sincere empathy and regrets to all the student-athletes and coaches that have worked hard in anticipation of participating in sports this spring, particularly the seniors,” Executive Director Dave Anderson said in a press statement.

The cancellation of spring competitions and State Tournaments is in support of Gov. Tony Evers’ ongoing efforts to prevent, suppress and control the spread of the COVID-19 disease.

Area school coaches have met with their respective players informing them there will be no season instead of gathering for practice.

Seymour softball coach Karri Vanden Langenberg understands the decision that was made.

“The health of our community and families are what is most important,” she said.

However, the news for her softball team was disheartening as they will not get the opportunity to defend their WIAA Division 2 state title.

Vanden Langenberg, who was preparing for her 8th year as varsity head coach, now had to prepare how to deal with her team who had their aspirations of a two-peat dashed.

“All of those kids coming back that were with us as a State team will not be able to get out on the field, and not be able to defend that (championship), it was a big blow to the kids,” Vanden Langenberg said. “I feel for our seniors.”

She has met with her four seniors, Chloe Evans, twins Diahanna and Dina King, and Daphne Javoroski, via group chat right away when the news broke of the cancellation.

“There’s been some tears shed,” she said. “There’s been those thoughts of, “I worked so hard to get to this point and now what?’

“There is definitely some emotional roller coasters going on. I’m hoping not only with the sports aspect of it, but as well as graduation ceremony and prom and major events in a seniors life that they have not been able to have this year.”

Vanden Langenberg said there’s been some highs and some lows and that the hope they had for a season was taken away.

“There’s been a whole gamut of emotions with these four girls.”

As a coach, she’s trying to stay optimistic with the kids.

“We’ve been trying to keep them positive along with the rest of the team so that our underclassmen get to experience that senior leadership as well,” she said.

Vanden Langenberg did say they offer a summer elite program which is available for the high school kids. The coaches, including herself, decided to let those graduating seniors come back and play summer ball.

Those four seniors, Evans for sure, were possibly looking at their final softball season as preparation for playing at the next level.

Evans, who already has committed to the University of Minnesota, was last year’s Wisconsin Fastpitch Softball Coaches Association Player of the Year and a First Team State selection.

Evans said the cancellation was hard on not only on her but the rest of the team because they were coming off a really good season.

“Even though we lost a bunch of seniors that made a really big impact on this team, we all knew that we would hopefully be able to come back as a team and as a family and maybe get one more run at another state title.

“It’s kind of disappointing just because I know how strong we still were as a team and I was really hoping to get one more season with the girls.

Evans will not be able to utilize her senior season as a springboard prepping her for summer ball and entering the University of Minnesota’s fall ball season.

“It kind of sucks, as of now because it’s kind of weird not knowing if I’m going be able to play this summer,” she said. “Playing summer (ball) is what would get me ready for next year because I play in a lot of bigger tournaments and there will be a lot of girls that are going to college and a lot of those girls are basically committed.”

She said the school season would get her ready as she would see live at-bats and pitchers who are just as comparable to as pitchers she would face this summer.

Vanden Langenberg also said the King girls, Dinah who is attending UW-Oshkosh and Diahanna going to UW-Stevens Point, along with Javoroski, attending Michigan Tech, may all have walk-on opportunities for their respective softball teams.

The WIAA is allowing individual, virtual spring sports coaching to continue until the final day of the 2020 season, which is the final day of the State Tournament for the respective sports.

Anderson said, “The Board of Control and Executive Staff have been resolute in their hopes to preserve some chance to play one more time, and it is our hope that by providing the extended unrestricted days, we can provide some opportunities and closure for spring sport student-athletes.”

Shiocton baseball head coach Jude Backman said he and his spring baseball squad are going to lay low until May 15 before he gives any consideration to virtual team instruction.

For now he can provide the visual/virtual things through emails so the players can gather if they prefer or work alone on some baseball skills. An option would be for the players to go to Lake Park and work, but as a coach, Backman cannot be there.

His other concern is if the WIAA would give the green light to play some ball in July that some of his players may have moved on and be done with baseball. He had four seniors, all major contributors to the team, who may not be around either.

“You have your seniors who are getting ready for their next chapter of life and you have your underclassmen who play football and getting ready for that,” Backman said. “You have to take all that into consideration.”

According to the WIAA, fall and winter sports coaches’ contact may begin July 1 provided restrictions on assembling in groups are removed and will follow the existing prescribed summertime dates and unrestricted contact regulations with a maximum of five days of contact.

Vanden Langenberg has met with Ryan Spaulding, athletic director for Seymour High School, as well as all of the spring coaches, regarding the 30-day extension. She said there also was a conference meeting as to how many teams would be interesting in various spring sports.

She said it has to be phased through the governor’s Badger Bounce Back plan with a target date of July 1.

“If we pursue it, it is seven days of practice before you can have your first contest,” Vanden Langenberg said. “Within that 30-day period you can schedule games with basically anybody in the state. It does not have to be in your conference.

“You’re allowed to play games and practice and the seven day rule does apply. You cannot play and practice seven consecutive days. You have to give them off at least one day in between.”

She said this allows seniors as well as both varsity and JV teams to compete and allows schools to be able to fund officials, transportation and other needs.

“This has not been approved by our school board yet,” Vanden Langenberg said.

There are other things to consider but this does give hope for her girls.

“But that may go away too,” she said.

She asked her players where there feelings lie and to talk to their parents about this 30-day option or the option to play summer league like they normally do. Also to take into consideration family time, summer jobs, plus other social distancing rules they are going to have to follow.

“It’s not that simple. There’s so much more to that 30-day extension of possible spring sports that we’re just unclear of and unsure of at this point yet.”

There is a glimmer of hope that if by chance Gov. Evers lifts the “Safer at Home” order, there still could be a season late into the summer.

Vanden Langenberg said she doesn’t want to give her girls false hope. She has spoken with other coaches who had talked with their team’s seniors and they all agree that closure is needed.

“Having our season and the school year taken away,” she said, “Is that closure?”

She said it would be a fantastic idea to somehow find some playing time for that closure, but will that happen?

“I don’t necessarily see that happening,” Vanden Langenberg said. “I really don’t.”

Shiocton Chiefs’ pitcher Austin Van Den Bosch takes to the mound during last year’s baseball season. Due to the cancellation of this spring season that would be his last time to pitch on the mound for his high school baseball career. – Times Press File Photo

Coach Backman’s view on the cancellation takes a different perspective. Although he is disappointed with the WIAA decision, he is greatly disappointed with Gov. Evers decision to extend the “Stay at Home order until May 26.

Evers’ decision not only closed the school, but it also closed the school grounds, which Backman totally disagrees with.

“Baseball is a sport where we could at least kept some practices going and could have ended up getting in some games,” Backman said. “That’s a sport you can do some social distancing prior and get away with it.

“I’m greatly disappointed in their decision.”

He thought Evers’ deadline could have went with the May 15 deadline and then re-evaluate, get the phases going and then go to Memorial weekend or June 1 and re-evaluate again.

“I was hopeful we were going to get to play some of June,” said Backman.

When the Governor closed the grounds to June 30th, Backman said that’s what really set everything back. He said the track could have been utilized by the athletes and members of the community and the batting cages, now being off-limits, where social distancing could easily been dealt with.

“That’s kind of a bummer,” Backman said. “Hopefully everything will get better quicker and they can open the school grounds sooner.”

He thinks that the WIAA would reconsider their decision to cancel the season if Gov. Evers would open things back up sooner.

As for his baseball team, Backman stayed in touch with the players through text messaging and emails.

“They all knew it was coming,” he said of the cancellation. “It was a shock with the baseball family. We were really disappointed because this was an opportunity to improve.

“We definitely had a better team this year. Our expectations were high.”

This year’s squad had some depth where last year Backman said they were lacking.

“We were definitely looking at competing this year,”

Coach Backman sent a letter to the team regarding the cancellation of the season, and sent a separate letter to his four seniors.

“These four guys, I’ve been with them through both basketball and baseball,” he said of Corbin Lorge, Cole Wilcox, Deven Bedor and Austin Van Den Bosch. “We’ve been together since Babe Ruth in baseball. They are key athletes. Four key guys in our school that are just great people.

“I told them they have raised the bar with all of their hard work, leadership, athleticism, energy, team first attitude, kindness and caring, and of course experience. They have no problem welcoming underclassmen.”

Lorge, who pitched and played first base along with left field, was looking forward to practicing baseball in the new facility that was constructed for extra-curricular activities.

“It would have given us a lot more opportunities to get ready for the season and become a better team overall,” said Lorge. “We were going to have a really good season.

“It was really disappointing.”

He said Coach Backman did reach out to him and the three other seniors to keep us informed as to what was happening.

“He (Backman) told us to keep our heads up and hopefully we will have somewhat of a season,” Lorge said. “I’m just kind of looking forward to the future and hoping to get on the field a little bit.”

Lorge said he feels bad for his senior teammate Cole Wilcox, who was injured playing football last fall, thus ending his football and basketball seasons. Now after healing from his injury, his senior baseball season was taken away from him.

“Now he might not even get baseball which is his sport to begin with,” Lorge said. “I’m really feeling it for him right now.”

That feeling also hits home as Lorge will not be able to take the field with the other three seniors and the remaining players on the team.

“This is my last sport I will be playing with all of them, including some of my closest friends,” he said. “It kind of hits the heart a little bit.”Backman said the four seniors have played four years of baseball for the Shiocton Chiefs and they have waited for their final season, their senior season.

“Unfortunately, it’s really some things that are out of our control,” he said.

He added that there is still that glimmer of hope that they will get an opportunity to play baseball.

“If not for the seniors, for the younger guys,” Backman said. “We have six freshmen going out who all love baseball.”