College futures up in air for local seniorsApril 7, 2020
By JONATHAN SAXON
DUBOIS COUNTY — The other shoe has finally fallen.
The Indiana High School Athletic Association officially cancelled the spring sports season after school closures were extended for the rest of the year on Thursday. Thousands of kids across the state have been stripped of the ability to play their sport, and another subset of athletes are facing an uncertain future. There are those who hoped to use the season as a chance, perhaps their last, to earn an opportunity to play at the college level.
“I was devastated,” said Jasper senior pitcher Carter Stamm. “I realized my high school baseball career is pretty well over. I thought this would probably be my best year of high school. I would have been able to prove myself a little bit.”
Southridge seniors Cort Gerber and Conner Oxley both felt that a season cancellation was coming based on the way things were developing with the pandemic. But there’s a cloud of disappointment over the Raiders. They felt primed to make another run at the state championship after finishing runner-up the past two seasons.
“The initial news that broke didn’t really change a whole lot,” said Gerber, who played all over the field but was pursuing either left or center field to play in college. “It was something in the back of your head you knew was going to happen. It wasn’t much of a shocker.”
“It didn’t catch us off guard because other states were cancelling,” added Oxley, who played first base. “It’s still tough knowing that we had a big season coming. We had a bunch of people returning, and it just felt like we weren’t done yet.”
It’s not just seniors who are missing out. Northeast Dubois sophomore third baseman and pitcher Hadley Fuhrman had been working out daily to keep herself ready when school and softball started back up. Not being able to cash in on her efforts was tough to reconcile.
“It hurts a lot not being able to perform this season,” she said via text. “Finding out spring sports were cancelled had me really upset. I love this game a lot and it being taken away from me and some of my best friends is just a terrible feeling.”
Fuhrman hasn’t had direct contact with college coaches, but she’s participated in various softball camps held at schools like Indiana University, University of Southern Indiana, Purdue University and University of Louisville. Being a sophomore, Fuhrman has a couple more school years plus opportunities to play through travel ball, but she feels for her senior Jeeps teammates, whom she called “true mentors.”
Gerber and Oxley don’t have the same luxury. Both seniors have also participated at different camps around the area, but hadn’t made any commitments to play at the next level yet. They figured there was a good shot they could have been noticed this season. Playing on a team that was favored to contend for a state title would have drawn a lot of interest, but the COVID-19 pandemic pulled the rug from under that plan.
“It stinks,” said Gerber, “It sucks for guys like myself who need another chance if they’re going to do anything in college. I needed another season to show what I got. But it ain’t going to happen, so it’s up in the air now.”
“I was going to decide after this year,” added Oxley, who also said he has an offer from MidAmerica Nazarene University (Kan.). “I’m on a really good team with talented players that are going to bigger places. I know there would be a lot of scouts that are watching.”
Raiders coach Gene Mattingly acknowledged the pandemic creates a lot of issues for players in the recruitment arena. It’s already tough enough for players to draw attention if they haven’t committed anywhere by their senior season. But he doesn’t necessarily think all hope for opportunity at the next level is lost.
“A lot of the (Big Five) recruiting happens between their freshman summer and their junior year,” said Mattingly, who anticipates colleges will also have to deal with clogged rosters between their incoming freshmen and those who stay the extra season. “But your Division III, junior college (programs), that’s where the seniors have an opportunity because money (and) roster sizes are different. A lot of Division III schools can’t give athletic scholarships, so it puts a heavy onus on their academics.”
Stamm has drawn some interest from Wabash College, Franklin College and University of Southern Indiana, so he’s not ready to give up on his hopes to play college baseball. He’ll play the hand he’s been dealt and will try to make the best of the situation.
“It happened, so I have to accept the fact of that,” he said. “I just got to keep pushing myself. I might play a couple games for the Jasper Reds this year and maybe a Legion team.”
Gerber opined that maybe the area teams could organize some kind of local tournament in July if the outbreak were to slow down so players could have some opportunity to showcase their skills.
“I was asking if maybe we could get a few area schools to have a round robin if the (pandemic) ends this summer,” he said. “(It gives) some of the guys who won’t have a chance next year to play a little baseball before going to college.”
No matter what the future holds for the seniors, their final thoughts go back to their teammates who will have a chance to play again next season. They hope that this spring teaches the younger players that things like baseball aren’t guaranteed, and they need to value their opportunities while they still can.
“Nothing is guaranteed,” said Gerber, who still appreciates the time he had with his teammates and hopes he can be remembered as a player who led by his actions. “They need to cherish every moment they have next year.”
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