Perhaps the hardest part for Adeena Shears was clearing out her locker.
A senior on the Ohio State women’s golf team, Shears knew she’d do it eventually this spring. But mid-March? Not a chance.
Shears and the Buckeyes had just competed in the Dr. Donnis Thompson Invitational in Hawaii when they found out their season had abruptly ended because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Buckeyes arrived back in Columbus on Friday. They’ll disperse to finish the rest of the academic semester online.
For Shears, that meant heading home to Parkersburg, West Virginia, with her fiancÚ. First, she had to empty her locker at the Ohio State University Golf Club.
“That was a challenge,” Shears said. “Of course, it's a mess and had tons of yardage books and head covers, and I found things that I had forgotten about from my very first year at Ohio State. Cleaning out my locker really brought up many memories.”
Shears is the only senior who made the trip to Hawaii. In the locker room, her teammates gave her farewell hugs. Everyone teared up.
She was the last one to leave. Shears took photos of her locker and of places around the golf course “just so I can have even more memories to look back on.”
The NCAA intends to extend eligibility to spring-sport athletes whose careers were cut short by the premature end to their seasons. Shears plans to be a teacher and expects to be student-teaching next spring, so that’s probably not an option for her.
When Shears and her teammates departed for Hawaii on March 7, they had no idea it would be their last competition.
“I texted our trainers and team doctors that week before ― I must have sent three or four messages, probably to the point of being aggravating to them ― to make sure we were good to go,” OSU women’s golf coach Therese Hession said.
“At the time, there were no known cases of coronavirus in Hawaii, so they’re like it’s business as usual. We went to the rental-car counter and there was a newspaper sitting there, ‘First case of coronavirus in Hawaii,’” and we were like, ‘Oh my gosh.’”
As devastating as the sudden end to their seasons was to winter-sport athletes, they did get to play most of their seasons. Spring sports were just ramping up.
Ohio State’s baseball team was scheduled to play its home opener on Friday. Instead, coach Greg Beals had to inform his players about the premature end to the season.
“We’d been seeing about seasons being suspended,” Beals said. “I don’t think any of us had in our mind that our season was going to be finished. Stunned is probably the best word. Guys have spilled blood, sweat and tears in preparation for the season. Having it end short is obviously an emotional and challenging time.”
One of the biggest challenges for coaches is the abruptness. They are used to juggling multiple tasks. Now they can’t even be with their players. Ohio State’s athletic facilities are closed. In-person on- and off-campus recruiting has been halted.
“It was a very weird feeling waking up this morning,” Beals said Friday. “Yesterday, I woke up and we were game-planning and doing scouting reports. Today’s supposed to be our home opener, and I woke up with nothing to do.”
Other than some athletic department conference calls Friday, “We went from 100 to zero,” he said.
But Beals and other coaches agreed that sports should be stopped during this crisis. Ohio State men’s tennis coach Ty Tucker had a bit of a dry run for this at the ITA Indoor tournament in February. Two players from other teams arrived with flu-like symptoms, he said.
The illness quickly spread to the point that 35 players caught it. Ohio State didn’t have enough healthy players to even compete against Notre Dame.
“Five of my guys became so sick, they weren’t permitted to practice for six days straight,” Tucker said. “So you can just imagine where we’re at with the coronavirus.”
Still, Tucker said his team was devastated by the sudden end, particularly for senior captain Kyle Seelig.
“He’s been an incredible leader for us,” Tucker said. “They’ve looked up to Kyle, and they were smart enough to realize this is just a terrible way for Kyle Seelig to go out.”
Tucker, Beals and the rest of the spring coaches now have unwanted time on their hands.
“I might go on vacation for the first time in 24 years,” Tucker said, with no excitement in his voice.
Coaches can comfort themselves in knowing sports will eventually resume for them. For senior athletes who won’t use the expected extra NCAA eligibility, that’s not the case.
“I really had high hopes for the rest of the season,” Shears said. “So it’s really, really disappointing that I didn’t get to finish it off.”