For nearly two months, high school athletes and coaches in spring sports in New Jersey held out hope for a season, even in abbreviated form.

But that dream ended Monday as Gov. Phil Murphy’s announcement that schools would be closed for the remainder of the academic year led to the cancellation of spring sports by the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association.

“This decision was not made lightly and we are disappointed for the thousands of New Jersey student-athletes who will be unable to compete this spring,” the NJSIAA said in a statement. “While we remained hopeful to the end, and left open every possibility, competition simply is not feasible given the circumstances.”

The decision, while not surprising, was disappointing to athletes and coaches who had been clinging to the possibility of a shortened season.

Since shutting down the state basketball tournaments on March 12, the NJSIAA had issued several statements stressing its commitment to trying to salvage some competition this spring in sports such as baseball, softball, lacrosse, and track and field.

In happier times, St. Augustine Prep's baseball team won the Joe Hartmann Diamond Classic during the 2018 season. Now "it stinks" that the NJSIAA has canceled spring sports this season according to Hermits star senior Kenny Levari.
YONG KIM / Staff Photographer
In happier times, St. Augustine Prep's baseball team won the Joe Hartmann Diamond Classic during the 2018 season. Now "it stinks" that the NJSIAA has canceled spring sports this season according to Hermits star senior Kenny Levari.

St. Augustine Prep senior Kenny Levari, a baseball standout and Old Dominion recruit, said he had been working out in a batting cage and bullpen in his backyard in hopes that he would be able to take the field again for the Hermits.

“It stinks,” Levari said in a text.

Several coaches said they were most upset for seniors who missed out on the opportunity to play what would have been their final season.

“The seniors worked so hard for the opportunity to be the leaders, the captains of the team, and it’s a shame to see kids not have the finality of a Senior Day, of competing with teammates one last time,” Mainland baseball coach Billy Kern said.

Delsea baseball coach Joe Smith, shown here during his time as Williamstown's head coach, lamented the loss of the season, especially for the seniors.
Delsea baseball coach Joe Smith, shown here during his time as Williamstown's head coach, lamented the loss of the season, especially for the seniors.

Delsea baseball coach Joe Smith, while lamenting the lost season for his seniors in particular, also said he hoped the circumstances would serve to remind young athletes of the importance of making the most of every opportunity.

“Maybe this situation will help kids understand when coaches say, ‘Practice and play like it’s your last time ever . . . ’” Smith said.

Shawnee baseball coach Brian Anderson said the decision will impact athletes at every grade level.

“I feel for the freshman and sophomores [and older players] that may someday fall short of 100 hits or breaking a record by a handful of games,” Anderson said. “I feel for the juniors who knew this was their year to get the interest of certain colleges.

“I really feel for the seniors who have played with their peers since the age of 7 and will never get the opportunity to share time and memories on the field.”

Coach Brian Anderson (far left) led the Shawnee baseball team to the 2019 Joe Hartmann Diamond Classic title.
Coach Brian Anderson (far left) led the Shawnee baseball team to the 2019 Joe Hartmann Diamond Classic title.

Anderson noted that while club sports such as AAU baseball and travel lacrosse have created abundant opportunities for athletes to face top competition and showcase their skills for college scouts, high school sports still provide something special. He called it a “small window” that has been closed.

“The high school experience is still one of a kind,” Anderson said. “Getting to take bus rides with your friends, read your name in the newspaper or online, and most importantly, compete with your lifelong friends is something that is unique.”

Delsea track and field coach Ronn Flaim, shown here encouraging Crusaders athlete Noah Bekeshka during the Unified Sports track meet in 2018, was disappointed but not surprised by the cancellation of the spring season.
Elizabeth Robertson/Staff photographer
Delsea track and field coach Ronn Flaim, shown here encouraging Crusaders athlete Noah Bekeshka during the Unified Sports track meet in 2018, was disappointed but not surprised by the cancellation of the spring season.

Delsea track and field coach Ronn Flaim was disappointed but not surprised.

“I think I can speak for most when I say we are all feeling pretty empty right now, especially for our seniors,” Flaim said.

In its statement, the NJSIAA vowed to continue working to arrange for fall sports and noted that the spring of 2020 might serve as an opportunity for high school athletes to demonstrate their resiliency.

“The last few weeks have been heartbreaking on many levels, from the tragic loss of life, to thousands battling the virus, to millions who have suffered emotional and economic loss,” the statement said. “It’s been a harrowing time for everyone, and we know our student-athletes are extremely disappointed. That said, these unfortunate circumstances may have put an intriguing challenge in the path of our young people.

“As New Jersey’s own Vince Lombardi once said, ‘It’s not whether you get knocked down, it’s whether you get up.‘ We’re confident all our kids will get back up and stand tall.”