What was supposed to be in 2020 never happened.

Updated: Mar 21

Gator sports was frozen indefinitely, just when their hopes were soaring.


By KASSIDY HILL

GatorBait Columnist


Spring practice was supposed to start this week.


The Florida Gators were supposed to be jogging from Ben Hill Griffin Stadium over to the indoor facility, passing the baseball stadium where the country’s No. 1 ranked team would be taking batting practice and opposite the field where the men and women’s track and field teams would have just returned from the indoor national championship — a competition the men’s team won last season.


The Gators basketball team was supposed to be preparing for what was predicted as a 9-seed entrance into the NCAA Tournament, led by an emerging dynamite sophomore in Keyontae Johnson. The No. 7 Gators softball team was supposed to be chasing another title behind hard hitting.

But now, the March breeze that should have been flitting through Gainesville’s Spanish moss and cooling those soaking in spring sports will instead bounce down deserted streets and echo off empty buildings. The crack of a bat is replaced by the sound of McKethan Stadium being unceremoniously shuttered early, its final season cut short and one game shy of boasting an undefeated record.


But now, seniors are catching their breath from the sudden whiplash of their season ending. Individuals who know nothing but drive must intentionally stall.


The spread of COVID-19, the coronavirus, has ground the world to a halt, taking sports along with it. Citizens were left scrambling, looking to play catchup to a fast moving-illness and adjust their lives accordingly. And currently adrenaline is still pumping, so to speak, giving our minds a task on which to focus, and a reprieve from the stark reality that is about to take hold. These next few days and weeks are going to be the hardest.


And now…now, we ask ourselves; what do we do without sports?


Wash your hands.


Stay at home.


Become comfortable with the details of this new reality and don’t become discouraged as leaders work to stay fluid within an ever-changing situation.


When a somber Scott Stricklin stood in front a skeleton press corps Friday, March 13 — which feels like a year ago at this point — he began with the details. No Florida athletics — in conjunction with the decree that there would be no SEC athletics — until at least April 15. This means no games, no tournaments, no championships, not even practices. All athletic areas save the academic center and training room (staffed with doctors) would be closed to all athletes until at least April 15 – likely longer. And April 15, he warned, was ambitious.


The entire UAA would try to operate with a smaller-than-normal staff and empty calendar until whenever that is.


“We have put April 15th out as a date to work toward. My sense is that’s probably optimistic. I’m not an expert, but what we’ve been told here on campus we probably need to expect that potentially to go longer, and we’ll just have to be prepared for that.”

Related: Spring football postponed, UF athletics shut down til April 15


The SEC has since given official word that all remaining athletic events, championships, pro-days and spring games for the 2019-2020 academic year will be suspended.


Commissioner Greg Sankey hasn’t ruled out the possibility of spring practice being conducted after April 15.


Yet still, we ask ourselves; what do we do without sports?


Wash your hands.


Stay at home.


Understand the sacrifice being asked pales in comparison to the repercussions that have already taken place.

“(Our athletes) invest a lot of time and effort and energy in being in a position to compete against the very best and have a chance to be successful,” explains Stricklin, continuing, “through no fault of their own, no fault of any of us, that’s been taken from them. The psychology of an athlete is always working toward something. They woke up this morning and there was nothing to work toward. That’s a hard thing to process.”


During this time, athletes won’t have a purpose or an adequate avenue to pursue their dreams. Fans won’t have the escape or community that sports provides. There are hundreds of things and millions of lives that are more important than sports right now…but don’t let anyone tell you this loss can’t hurt.


Yet still, we ask ourselves; what do we do without sports?


Wash your hands.


Stay at home.


Recognize that for every dream that has gotten somewhat dimmer, a brighter light has begun to shine at the end of this tunnel. Recognize that for every connection one fan had hoped to find with another, humanity has discovered a connection with each other thought lost. When you don’t know what to do, do what you know to do; be aware, be cognizant, be a helper. Listen to Stricklin’s words:


"The most important thing is we, as a society and community and a university, take the steps necessary to protect our young people, protect our staff and our coaches, and protect our fans who love watching our young people compete. That’s why we’re trying to take these steps.


“The more drastic measures that can be taken as soon as possible, it does seem like we have a better chance of getting through this and returning to normal sooner than we would otherwise.”


Yet still, we ask ourselves; what do we do without sports?


Wash your hands.


Stay at home.


Relive old Gator memories. Rewatch the video of Grier to Calloway on “Train Right Jill, Big Ben In” to defeat Tennessee in 2015. Feel the stomach turn as you unconsciously worry yet again that Calloway won’t spin out of the wheel route in time to turn up field before one of the three Vols defenders stop him. Feel the heart squeeze as once again he plants his foot, flips his body and takes off with house money. Feel the goosebumps race up your arm for the 100th time as he crosses the goal line for the winning score. And this time, watch as running back Brandon Powell — an open option on the play — turns back, sees his teammate with the ball and sacrificially dives towards Tennessee defensive back Brian Randolph, creating a domino effect that took all three defenders out of harm’s way for Calloway.



And for the next few weeks, be Brandon Powell. Do your part. Even if it feels pointless. Even if you think it looks stupid. Even if it’s hard and requires sacrifice. Because it’s not about you. It’s about the team, about the greater good. It’s the absolute best lesson sports has to teach us. Honor that right now.


Yet still, we ask ourselves; what do we do without sports?


Wash your hands.


Stay at home.


Spend time with your family and loved ones from an appropriate 6-foot distance. See how quickly you can watch “The Office” from beginning to end. Start with season 4, episode 1. It’s one of the finest hours of television in recent history if for no other reason than the moment Michael hits Meredith with his car. Play a game of Monopoly. That’ll take up the entire “social distancing quarantine” time anyways. Learn to find the competition we’ll miss in other ways. Hit your mom with a “Draw 4 UNO” card if you want to start a dugout clearing brawl. Bumble your way through Julia Childs cookbook. And when you go to buy ingredients, for the love of all that is good and holy, don’t hoard up on toilet paper. It’s not a coronavirus vaccine and if you need 144 rolls of toilet paper to get through a possible two week quarantine, you should’ve already seen a doctor.


Yet still, we ask ourselves; what do we do without sports?


Wash your hands.


Stay at home.


Accept a lesson humbly given from this writer — one that has been drilled into her by her father since birth. Happiness is relative and therefore should never be your primary focus. Be holy, be healthy and seek joy. Everything else will take care of itself.


Read a book.


Write a book.


Teach yourself the complete complexities of a 3-4 and 4-3 defense in hopes of keeping your blood pressure down when Todd Grantham sends a corner blitz on the first play against Eastern Washington.


After Scott Stricklin had finished his Friday press conference and the majority of the Gators press corps had gone home, I and Robbie Andreu of the Gainesville Sun were the only ones remaining in the press box. I finished up my piece, began to walk out and threw over my shoulder, “see ya later Robbie!” Then we both stopped. We were supposed to be setting up shop at the practice facility for the next few weeks. Instead, we had no idea when we actually would see each other again.


And so now, we ask ourselves; what do we do without sports?


Wash your hands.


Stay at home.


Dream of the day we can all be together again cheering on our teams.

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