High school baseball, softball teams dealing with trip cancellations
The idea of driving to the Tennessee town of Pigeon Forge held an instant appeal to Dundee-Crown softball coach Tracy Beatty.
"You're playing softball in the Smokey Mountains," she said. "I mean, how great is that?"
Too great to be true, unfortunately.
The COVID-19 pandemic has forced the cancellation of spring-break trips for all IHSA sports, with baseball and softball hit the hardest.
From Lake Park baseball's trip to Arizona to St. Edward's trip to Florida ... canceled. Prospect softball was also headed to Florida, Downers Grove South baseball to California.
Trips planned to Georgia, North Carolina, Kentucky, Tennessee, southern Illinois -- all canceled.
"We've been to other places and we were looking at our options, and this seemed like a great opportunity for us," Beatty said. "We started planning at the beginning of the school year."
As coaches deal with the fallout from a season suddenly filled with doubt due to its suspension, the common theme is overwhelming disappointment. The chance to begin the 2020 campaign with a handful of games in beautiful weather is gone.
"Thursday we told the kids we're not going to Florida and (Friday) we told them 'See you in three weeks,'" said Grayslake Central coach Troy Whalen.
You've never seen anyone sell holiday wreaths and candles like Grayslake Central's baseball players. With an upcoming meal-card fundraiser, the Rams might have had their entire trip to Orlando, Florida, paid in full.
For the 12th year in a row they planned a spring-break trip, this time to the spot known as the happiest place on Earth. Although when Whalen tried to cancel, Disney said at first it would not issue a refund.
Then Disney World shut down due to the pandemic, forcing the entertainment giant to issue refunds.
"The airlines are talking about vouchers," Whalen said. "But that does no good to a senior who won't be on the team next year."
St. Viator baseball coach Mike Manno put thousands of dollars into deposits for a similar Orlando trip, only to be told the same thing initially about a refund. Common sense eventually prevailed.
"I understand they have policies," Manno said. "But I would think a worldwide virus would supersede those policies."
Like many coaches, Wheaton North baseball's Dan Schoessling had a feeling his team's trip to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, was in jeopardy.
"I started worrying about a week before we actually canceled, just hearing about all the concern with travel," he said. "We've been doing this for a while so we kind of knew what to expect."
Some of the Wheaton North families fly to South Carolina. Some drive on their own and squeeze in college visits on the way there and back. The rest of the players hop in the vans driven by the coaches.
A spring-break trip is a logistical jigsaw puzzle that now must be taken apart piece by piece.
"Monday though Wednesday I was collecting permission slips and waivers," Schoessling said. "Then it was all over."
Dundee-Crown's Beatty doesn't consider this a team trip. To her it's a family trip.
"We were really looking forward to spending that time together," she said. "Pigeon Forge seemed like a great fit for the kind of family atmosphere we have."
With the wave of news hitting last week -- NBA player Rudy Gobert and actor Tom Hanks testing positive for COVID-19, the IHSA canceling the boys basketball season -- baseball and softball players couldn't help but wonder about their pending trips.
Still, when the official word came down the disappointment was clear.
"They kind of knew it was coming but you could see how down they were," Manno said. "Our goal as coaches is to give kids the best experiences they can have. They got the rug pulled out from underneath them, and you feel for them. Especially the seniors."
The hope now is that the IHSA's spring season will resume at some point and athletes will enjoy at least a semblance of a season.
"The kids were pretty bummed when we told them the trip was canceled," Schoessling said. "It was just a weird vibe during our last practice. There's just too much that we don't know right now. Hopefully we're able to come back and play."
Whalen reserved Grayslake Central's spot in Orlando last spring, knowing it fills up fast. He'll start planning next year's trip pretty soon, and before long his players will be selling those wreaths again.
Despite this setback, looking forward is part of the recovery process.
"When these guys look back on the highlights of their time here, this trip is at the top of the list," he said. "We don't want to take that away from them."