It certainly appeared to be an absolutely perfect afternoon for baseball as the Washougal baseball team practiced under gorgeous sunny skies on Thursday, March 12.
Excitement filled the air behind Washougal High School as the Panthers’ players expressed their optimism about the upcoming season, which they were confident would be special.
As it turns out, their season will indeed be special, but in a much different way than the players imagined.
The next day, Washington Governor Jay Inslee announced that all public and private K-12 schools in Washington will shutter for at least the next six weeks due to the outbreak of COVID-19, a disease caused by a new coronavirus.
Washougal senior Brevan Bea learned about the unprecedented declaration when an announcement blared across the school’s public address system during the final class period of the day.
“We all heard the announcement, and I immediately went up to (Washougal athletic director Gary) McGarvie and asked him, ‘Does this mean sports are cancelled, too?’ and he said, ‘Yes, all sports are cancelled until we can figure something out,'” Bea said.
As students and athletes grappled with the shocking news, a sense of sadness and disappointment filled the school. For seniors like Bea, their high school sports careers could very well be over.
“I’m really in shock mode right now,” he said. “I’m still trying to grasp that this is a nationwide thing that’s going on.
“When it started in China, I really didn’t think it was that serious here, but it keeps getting worse.”
Disappointed players practice on their own
Forty-one players turned out for the Washougal baseball team this spring, the most players the Panthers have had in years. After a frustrating end to the 2019 season, 2020 was expected to be a breakthrough year for Washougal.
“I just want to build a winning program,” said Carter, who has been working closely with McGarvie to create more consistency for the program, which for years has lost some top players to neighboring baseball powerhouse Camas.
Despite the shutdown, the coaches and players are still focused on improving the program, even though there are no official practices.
Senior Julien Jones, the Panthers’ top pitcher, is not giving up hope on his final season of high school baseball.
“As a team I think we will keep practicing off to the side with no coaches,” said Jones, whose recruiting trip to the University of Southern Oregon in Ashland, Oregon, was canceled. “We will go to the field and hit and practice just in case a season can somehow still be played.
“I thought we were going to do pretty good this year,” he continued. “The team seemed more together than it’s been in a while. For seniors it’s the last high school sport we will ever play, and to have it cancelled like this is very upsetting.”
Panthers try to focus on future
The players — especially for the seniors — are struggling with the idea that their season might be over before it starts. However, the future of the program looks brighter than ever thanks to changing demographics.
“Washougal is really growing,” Carter said. “We have 16 freshman coming in this year and next year we expect to have at least 18. More and more people keep moving to Washougal.”
Looking that far forward is a small consolation for the team’s players, who like everyone else are still trying to process the new reality that they now face.
“We are all pretty much bummed,” Bea said. “I mean, it’s the last year to play baseball, at least for me, and it sucks that I can’t play with my buddies for my last year. I do understand why they did it, and I do respect the decision to keep people safe.”
“All we can do is, if there is a short season, just prepare for it.”