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Gulf Coast coaches react to their seasons being canceled


By Dustin Kent
When the news came down Monday that the NJCAA would cancel its already-postponed national basketball tournaments in Hutchinson, Kan., and Lubbock, Tex., along with the remainder of spring sports seasons, Gulf Coast women’s basketball coach Roonie Scovel wasn’t among those stunned by the decision.

“It was kind of like a matter of when, not if, in my mind,” she said. “When the NCAA canceled March Madness and then the MLB and NBA all came out, we knew it was coming. It was just a matter of when they would announce it. That was my own personal opinion the whole time.”

The basketball tournaments were originally set to begin this week, with the Gulf Coast women (23-5) the No. 5 seed in Lubbock and the Commodore men (24-7) the No. 8 seed in Hutchinson.

The decision to postpone the Division I and Division II tournaments to April 20 was made late Thursday night.

When the Center for Disease Control released a recommendation Sunday night to cancel any events featuring 50 or more people for the next eight weeks, the writing was on the wall.

“It’s extremely disappointing, but by the same token we knew when the CDC put that edict out of two months and 50 people, there was no way,” Gulf Coast men’s basketball coach Phil Gaffney said. ”(NJCAA president) Chris Parker was gonna have to do that. We’re disappointed, but I totally understand the decision. We’re all just gonna have to move forward.”

The cancellation means that Scovel, who announced her retirement after 22 seasons last month, coached her last game in a 57-55 loss to Northwest Florida State in the state championship on March 7.

Scovel won’t get the chance to go out on top with her seventh national championship, though she seemed at peace Monday with the abrupt end to her coaching career.

“Maybe that was a good thing,” Scovel said of not knowing when she was coaching her last game. “I would still say we went out on a good note. I would be awfully selfish to say, ‘I didn’t get to go to the national tournament.’

“For some coaches this may have been their first trip. I feel way worse for those coaches and the coaches who thought this might be their first chance that they had a team that had a chance to be the last one standing. For me, it would be awfully selfish to be disappointed that I didn’t get to go for a 13th time.”

Trips to the national tournament have been far, far less frequent for the Gulf Coast men, who were making their first trip this year since 1972, which makes the cancellation a particular bitter pill to swallow.

“It’s pretty ironic after 48 years of not getting here, Gulf Coast finally makes it and now we can’t go play,” Gaffney said.

Still, Gaffney said he has much more empathy for the Gulf Coast baseball and softball teams that had much more season left to play.

“We all understand the reality here, but we got to play a season,” Gaffney said. “I really feel for the softball and baseball guys. They just got their feet wet and now the rug is being pulled out from underneath their feet. That’s unbelievable.”

Commodores baseball coach and athletic director Mike Kandler said he felt bad for the Gulf Coast athletes who saw their seasons cut short prematurely while also calling for perspective about the larger issues at hand.

“In the grand scheme of what’s going on in the world, missing an opportunity to play baseball, softball, or basketball is not really that big of a deal,” he said. “This is a worldwide problem on so many levels. We’re not gonna overreact with the disappoint of not getting to play ball.

“It is important (to the players) because it’s what they do, but everything has to be put into perspective. When you’re dealing with life and death, then these sorts of things tend to pale in importance. It’s not just us, not just JUCO sports. The entire world is having to rearrange their lives.

“My thoughts first go out to the victims and the people afflicted with this, and then you look at people whose jobs are in jeopardy. There are so many facets of this. It’s probably not the right time to get self absorbed with how it affects us. That said, it is disappointing that we don’t get a chance to play.”

While the season is over for both the Gulf Coast baseball and softball teams, the NJCAA announced along with its decision to cancel spring sports that spring athletes would not have the 2020 season count against their eligibility.

Commodores softball coach Scot Thomas said he was happy to see the NJCAA take the same measure regarding eligibility that the NCAA did late last week, though there are still many issues surrounding that decision that will have to be addressed soon.

“The cool part is the younger kids at least, even though they’ve put all this time and effort into this year, they’re not losing a year. There’s a positive there,” Thomas said.

“But there are a lot of questions. Who will move on to the four-year level? Who can afford to stay or not stay at this level? There are so many questions yet to be answered.”

For now, the focus for Gulf Coast’s coaches goes back to helping student-athletes graduate and move on to four-year universities. That’s standard stuff, even if little else feels standard at the moment.

“Life is a little bit out of sync right now, but that’s true for a lot of people,” Thomas said. “We’ll all make it through and one of these days we’ll look back and say, ‘can you believe what happened in 2020?’ It will seem like a blip, but it doesn’t seem like a blip right now.”


 

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