College Baseball

Communication key for athletes to navigate tough times

By Herald-Whig
Posted: Mar. 22, 2020 12:01 am Updated: May. 12, 2020 8:33 am

QUINCY -- Everything seemed casually comfortable as Alex Pribyl, Jimmy McDonald and Zach Lamari waited their turn to take the mound.

The three right-handed pitchers -- all redshirt juniors on the Quincy University baseball team -- suffered injuries in the past year and were on the road to recovery. That's why they were pitching a simulated game last week and offering the coaching staff the chance to monitor their progress.

"Practice was over and it was the middle of spring break," QU coach Josh Rabe said. "We had some guys hitting off them. Some guys were standing in the field fielding the ball. It was a pretty loose atmosphere."

It turned chaotic rather quickly.

A day before the Hawks were to leave for a Great Lakes Valley Conference series at Rockhurst, the news broke the NCAA decided to cancel all remaining winter and spring championships in response to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and the word was spreading faster than the virus itself.

"All of a sudden you could see a couple of guys run to their phones," Rabe said. "Then I got a call telling me the NCAA championships were canceled. I had to address the team. There was a lot of unknown. There were seniors there who thought their career was over. So there were some tears.

"Either our season ends at the world series or getting your guts ripped out in an NCAA Tournament game. Now you've had it taken out of your hands by a worldwide pandemic. It's uncharted territory."

It has been for everyone.

In the nine days that have passed since that announcement, a number of decisions have been made by the NCAA, NAIA, NJCAA and individual schools and conferences impacting the future of spring sports student-athletes.

The GLVC on Friday followed the lead of the NAIA and NJCAA by canceling all spring sports.

It was a swift and necessary measure taken by all, but it also has created questions and concerns that need to be addressed. Some already have, while others will be soon enough.

What the schools are discovering is it takes time and patience to work through everything.

"From initial eligibility to equivalencies to scholarship limits per program, all those things are being vetted and discussed," said Marty Bell, QU's vice president of intercollegiate athletics. "To the NCAA's credit and the GLVC's credit, they've done a good job of doing what is right and what is fair."

All organizations have done their best to do so.

When the NAIA announced it was canceling all spring sports, it included information about student-athletes retaining their year of eligibility in the press release.

"I thought it was really well done by the NAIA to include that to let everyone know they had already figured that part out," Culver-Stockton College athletic director Pat Atwell said. "It eased at least one worry of many of the student-athletes."

Communication is the key component to the entire process.

John Wood Community College baseball coach Adam Hightower brought his sophomores to his house last week for lunch and planned a dinner with another group of players. That's on top of the everyday communication he's tried to maintain with the entire team.

"I don't know when the last time I'm going to see them is," Hightower said. "If our campus shuts down, they might be gone. I don't know what's going to happen."

Coaches are getting creative with their communication, too.

Late last week, QU football coach Gary Bass held his first team meeting on Zoom, a video conferencing platform. QU softball coach Carla Passini is using Zoom for similar purposes, conducting weekly team meetings dubbed "Tuesdays at 10."

And every coach is staying engaged with their players.

"We as adults, as coaches, as administrators we are a little more experienced when something traumatic happens and understand how to manage that," Bell said. "The younger you are the more emotion is involved. One thing I think we've been good at is constant, constant communication. Keeping kids informed of all the changes in a timely manner is important.

"Every single one of us is hard-wired to look three plays ahead. This is not the time for that. You don't know what three plays ahead is going to be. You just have to deal with the moment and manage the moment."