68.4 F
Fort Smith
Tuesday, October 4, 2022

Spring’s Sudden End Offers No Catchphrase for Senior Tigers

- Advertisement -spot_img

Article contributed by John Mackey

In 2014, Mansfield was introduced to a new generation of athletes. A crop of wildly enthusiastic seventh graders were trying every sport and building a foundation for what looked to be six years of competitive sports. That was just about the time ESPN announcer Stuart Scott was reaching his untimely end. You remember him. That’s the man that made the catchphrase “boo-yah” a household word when watching nightly sports highlights like NBA buzzer beaters were still the rage. He’s the same guy that characterized the best player “as cool as the other side of the pillow”.

Sadly, Scott lost his battle with colon cancer on January 4, 2015, just as these freshly minted Mansfield Tigers were entering their second semester of athletics. Who knows if Scott’s hip-hop style of broadcasting influenced these young players. It seems plausible that his outlandish Sportscenter style appealed to the up and coming athletes. As this class of 2020 moved on through the years, those whimsical Scottisms were fading fast. Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter found the upper ground as highlights didn’t need a tagline just a retweet. But, wouldn’t it have been cool if today’s seniors could have sniffed a Stuart Scott breath mint describing at least one more heroic Tiger play? 

What could have, would have, or should have been a sports moment to glorify in any capacity for this senior class stopped abruptly a little over four weeks ago. This spring, Mansfield athletes barely got things started with hopes of fantastic finishes and state-bound ambitions. Track meets, softball games, and baseball competitions vanished without warning due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Tiger seniors such as Lennon Woods and Delilah McKusker who lived track and field were lost. Teammates Janna Coplin and Addison Goetz were equally crushed that their sports careers were over. “It was heartbreaking,” confessed Woods, who previously qualified to state in younger years as a relay runner and hurdler. “I remember thinking maybe it (pandemic) will be over soon. Then getting that text that I’d never get to do what I loved the most ever again; I just wish I had the chance to do it all over again so I could have done better for myself and my team.”

McKusker, who took on the 300-meter hurdles race as her premiere event added similar thoughts. “Learning I would never get another opportunity to wear my Mansfield uniform on the track again was heartbreaking,” cried McKusker. “Even my last meet was cut short just before my specialty race. It’s incredibly unfair and heartbreaking but my time is done and I’m happy with the memories I have.”

Coplin who specialized in throwing the discus and who set a personal record of 83 feet 8 inches in her only meet of this season shared the following text message. “My senior year of track is what I have been looking forward to for so long,” wrote Coplin. “My heart breaks. I was so excited about so many things such as the Quad City meet, senior breakfast, and maybe qualifying to state. And most of all I just wanted to have a season to make my coach, teammates, and family proud.”

Goetz, a senior utility player that ran sprints, relays, and learned to compete in the horizontal jumps also shared a text message. “It didn’t really feel like we had a season at all,” admitted Goetz. “All the seniors have been on the track team since the 7th grade. I think we are all disappointed that the last six years led to this ending.” Jacob Brown and Jaicy Griffin off the men’s track team revealed disappointment as well. “It’s upsetting to see a season end abruptly whenever you had worked hard for several years to try to be the best you could be,” reflected Brown, a throws specialist who went over 111 feet in the discus. “It’s even more upsetting whenever you had a goal of qualifying for the state meet but couldn’t accomplish the goal because your senior season was cut short. It hurts. Everyone put in tons of work to be as great as possible.”

Griffin, a sprinter that had previous trips to the state finals on his resume, was unavailable for comment. According to one of his track coaches, Griffin like the others was disappointed. “At least he got to run the 4×200 meter relay,” stated John Mackey, one of the track coaches at Mansfield. “AAA is bringing that event back next year. Jaicy anchored that exhibition relay race for a come from behind win at Van Buren. That was his last race before everything shut down.” Softball players Kyli Davidson, Abby Morgan, and Maggie Strunk couldn’t believe it was over either. “I’ve played softball with the other two seniors for the majority of the 12 years I’ve played,” said Davidson. “Softball isn’t just another game for me. It’s something I have fallen in love with over time. I was so excited for softball this year. I won’t ever put those cleats back on but I know the love will always be there for the game. I’m thankful for all the support our community has given us.”

Strunk, who had a large amount of success through golf, volleyball, and basketball spent this winter in offseason workouts for a jump start to her senior softball season. “Only playing five games of my senior season of softball was very heartbreaking,” wrote Strunk via text message. “It was hard to let it all go. Every softball player was excited for the season to start. We had the potential to go far. I am very thankful that I was able to share some of my last memories as a senior with the sweetest, most encouraging people.”

Morgan, who also dedicated her winter to softball preseason workouts after a successful run to state in volleyball, shared her thoughts by message. “Absolutely devastated,” described Morgan. “After playing softball for so many years it was hard to say goodbye. I just want to say a big thank you to my coaches for making me work even on the days I didn’t want to. I’m thankful for all my teammates for giving me so many unforgettable memories.” Morgan was not the only senior to mention their teammates, family, or coaches. Nearly every senior player interviewed for this story expressed disappointment, relived memories, and then thanked someone for support.

Baseball player Isaac Cothran had family and support right there close on his team. His dad Tim Cothran was his head coach for the diamond Tigers this 2020 season. Coach and son shared a rare moment together when the end was eerily imminent. Mansfield was playing their first home game of the season on March 12 versus Lamar. The game itself lasted only about one inning. An early arriving rainstorm hammered the proceedings with big drops and tiny bits of hail. The game was called off less than midstream. Not long after the stoppage, word was hitting the internet that the AAA was suspending the basketball championship games at Hot Springs and all spring sports were taking an indefinite delay.

As the story unfolded, Tim and Isaac were the last two to leave the Tiger dugout as the shocking internet news crowed their conversation. According to Coach Cothran, Isaac asked if this was his last ballgame. “I hope not,” said Coach Cothran. “But, anything is possible. I hope we have many more games to play.” Coach’s hope and Isaac’s dream to play on were both dashed as March moved into April. “I hate that it had to end before it even got started,” said an unabashed Isaac Cothran. “I never got to accomplish what I was hoping I could my senior season, and it feels strange.”

Baseball teammate Clay James admitted he too was not prepared for the sudden end to a season already hamstrung by wet fields from rainy March days. “Well, it just goes to show you can’t take anything for granted,” admitted James. “You have to make the most of your opportunities. We had the potential for a good season with some good talent coming up. It stinks that it had to end so soon. I’m just thankful I got this opportunity to play Tiger baseball with my coaches and teammates.”

McKusker wrapped it up for the track majority by saying this. “I’m crushed that we won’t get our last lap around the Tiger track, but I realize everything happens for a reason and it’s all part of life.” Goetz, the top academic student of Mansfield’s class of 2020, understood with a pearl of wisdom analogous to her scholastic status. “In the end, I understand that precautions have to be taken,” revealed the valedictorian with recognizable disappointment in her heart but rational thought in her head. “I’d rather us be safe and healthy.”

James finished off his conversation with sentiments similar to the other seniors. “There was never a game or practice that I didn’t have a good time,” said the baseball player. “I wouldn’t trade those memories with my team for anything.”  Mansfield had 11 seniors participating in spring sports this season. Their remaining athletic schedule was a big deal. Although most had played other sports this year or enjoyed other activities, this was their final stretch towards a 12-year finish line. Nothing on earth would have led them to believe their athletic career would end at 11 years and some change.

If Stuart Scott were still alive today, he may have used another of his patented phrases. Usually, when a player was ejected as part of his highlight package he would offer this line. “You ain’t gotta go home, but you gotta get the heck outta here.” The Mansfield spring sport seniors may have felt like they were rudely asked to leave and to get the heck outta here. It’s not the case though. Fact is, plenty of thought regarding health and safety went into the discussion before drastic, unprecedented measures were taken. 

With no season to complete nor heroic plays to describe, a catchphrase to capture the moments related to the 2020 track, softball, and baseball seasons were relegated as moot. However, to the individual seniors, it must be said. “Boo-yah!” For all the years, months, days, and minutes you gave to provide the best version of yourself, thanks for being a Tiger. For your preparedness and commitment, “Boo-yah!” It did not go unnoticed. Your time, regardless of length, mattered. Your memories are real.

- Advertisement -spot_imgspot_img
Latest news
- Advertisement -spot_img
- Advertisement -spot_img
Related news
- Advertisement -spot_imgspot_img