As the nation – and the world – tries to come to grips with COVID-19, social distancing, sheltering in place and more … a group of high school seniors is also dealing with a lost season.
While it pales in comparison to the pandemic, it has been tough on senior athletes at Oakdale High School who were just getting started on their final sports campaign.
The closure of school as of March 19 not only interrupted their final high school athletics season, but has left additional questions about closing out their senior year.
This week, we begin a two-part feature on some of those senior athletes; look for Part 2 in the April 8 issue of The Leader.
Riley Miller was competing in throwing during his senior season, coming off a personal record in discus against Manteca, which was their last track and field meet.
“I was looking forward to the County Meet. It would have been a great opportunity, not just for myself, but for my teammates as well,” said Miller, who has also played baseball and basketball during his high school days.
Miller said that it took him until his junior year to become fully confident and feel accepted.
“I was very anti-social and it was hard for me as a student. I did not want to join any clubs or teams,” he admitted. “It really bothered me and I wanted to live a better life and when we returned to school for my junior year I branched out. I have been living my best life.”
Miller misses his classmates, teammates, teachers and coaches. He is hopeful about school resuming before the traditional end of the school year.
“I cannot stress how much Oakdale High School means to me both as a student and as an athlete. I hope that I have made a positive impact in any way amongst my classmates, teammates and drama club friends.”
He also wanted to send out a message to his throws coach Brett Chappell.
“I am so fortunate to have a great and knowledgeable coach. He truly cares about his athletes. He prepares us on another level and if we return to action, I know he will have us ready to compete.”
Miller’s teammate is Ben Chappell, who has competed in throws and also played football his senior season. He believes he has a lot left to prove.
“I hope we can return to action soon because I had a lot of goals that I wanted to accomplish. I truly felt that I could have set school records. This sport is in my blood and I truly believe that I have more left to accomplish before college,” said Chappell.
He went on to say that he wasn’t satisfied with his last performance and hopes it is not his final one at the high school level.
“I did not throw my best. I know that I can throw further. However if it is the last time I perform at the high school level, I hope that college recruiters look at all of our bodies of work, no matter what sport, and not just our senior season that was cut short,” he said.
Cortney Koelmans is a four-year high school softball player. Last season the team won the Sac-Joaquin Section Championship. If the preseason was any indication the team appeared to be well on their way to another serious run.
“I have no doubt that we would be playing for another banner. That was not just my personal goal but everyone who plays for Oakdale,” Koelmans shared. “It is a team goal and we were very focused on that heading into the season.”
In their last game they shut out Patterson and looking back Koelmans said she hopes that it would not be the last game of the seniors’ careers.
“It’s hard to process … I don’t think anyone would be satisfied if that was our final game. Yes we won but we want to experience a playoff run, our senior night and more.”
Koelmans said that she keeps in touch with her teammates and tries to be a leader while maintaining ‘Social Distance’.
“I have been in touch with all of my teammates and trying to be a leader from home. I can tell you that each one is sad and devastated by this. We are all in this together.”
For the senior, though, her disappointment reaches further than any softball field. She is fearful of the possibility that her senior school year is slipping away as well.
“Everyone should get the opportunity to walk the stage at graduation in front of their classmates, friends and family. Everyone should get the chance to go to prom, sign a yearbook and I feel like those everlasting memories and moments are being taken from us; through no fault of our own.”
Tennis player Hayden Hill is also feeling the effects of a possible end to his senior year. The team started the campaign dominating the first half of the Valley Oak League season. In their final performance they dominated Manteca, the defending Section Champions. Last year Manteca defeated Oakdale in the Section title game.
“Although it was great to beat them, we as a team are not satisfied,” Hill said. “We felt like we were unstoppable. We have experience and honestly felt like we could win sections this year. I felt like we were that good.”
Hill takes the virus very seriously and said that everyone should, even after we all return to normalcy.
“I think the biggest thing is that this has humbled all of us as a nation, not just athletes. We all need to continue to keep up on sanitization, and cleanliness following this.”
Hill also said that he would be very devastated if the season or his senior year has already come to an end.
“It’s a sad reality that many of us are facing. We can all keep the faith that we can return but if we can’t we need to be thankful for the time we did have as classmates, teammates and friends.”
Multisport athlete Dom McDonald recalls the day that the news broke.
“We were getting ready for baseball practice when coach Chris Henry told us that we will be missing time and that our season was in jeopardy. It shocked us … it is still surreal.”
McDonald said that he is staying in touch with his teammates and they are a close bunch.
“Baseball is a family, especially in Oakdale. I love this team, I love my school and I love my community,” McDonald said.
He also said that he misses being in the classroom and seeing friends on a daily basis. To stay in shape and in hopes of returning to baseball, McDonald has been practicing playing catch with his brothers and also running.
McDonald’s teammate Evan Waite also took time to reflect.
“I am a very spiritual person and to be honest I have put all of this in God’s hands. I just pray to Him that we as a human race get through this stronger, and more knowledgeable,” Waite said.
The senior admitted he was in a state of disbelief when coach Henry broke the news and the team grasped the seriousness of the situation.
Like most athletes during this time, Waite is remaining in shape and keeping in contact with his teammates.
“I’ve always had the work ethic of ‘Do your best, work hard’. During this time that’s what I’ve been doing. We don’t know if we can return to the field or classroom this year or not, but whatever happens I will be ready.”
Waite also said that the main thing is that we be kind to one another during this time and that we as a group grow from this.
“I’ve been trying to stay calm during this. There is a chance that we return for our senior year but if it does not happen, we need to remember how special our time was together. I have made many friends that I will cherish,” Waite shared. “The one thing that will be difficult is graduation. If I don’t get to see my mom’s eyes fill up with tears as they call my name it will be very difficult for me. That’s something we always talked about but considering everything else that’s going on in the world right now, I think that would be okay.”