Given the unprecedented circumstances surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, the hopes for Utah Valley high school athletes to get back to competing this spring were always slim.
Now, unfortunately, they are gone completely.
With Utah Gov. Gary Herbert announcing Tuesday afternoon that schools will not have any further in-person learning this year, the Utah High School Activities Association released a corresponding statement confirming that all remaining spring activities are canceled.
That means there will be no competitions or state tournaments for baseball, softball, boys soccer, boys tennis, girls golf, track and field and boys and girls lacrosse. UHSAA also reiterated that “policies prohibiting the use of school facilities and organizing practice and/or team gatherings remain in effect until further notice.”
UHSAA executive director Rob Cuff said in a phone interview Tuesday that it’s been an emotional time for the association as it has tried to work through the challenges presented by current events.
“It’s the students that you feel for the most,” Cuff said. “It’s been a roller coaster. When you have the uncertainty of are we going to have sports or are we not, it just compounds the frequency of how much you think about it. You’re hoping for the best but at the same time you are trying to prepare for the worst news. I’m ready for it to be over.”
He explained that the association had come up with multiple contingency plans based on having a return to school at the beginning of May.
“Without school reopening, those contingency plans can’t even be used,” Cuff said. “Our jobs are to run state tournaments. That’s what we do. We as a staff wanted as much as anyone to continue to run state tournaments and to be there. We were very excited about putting plans together — but we were also preparing for the worst and the worst came today when we learned school would not resume.”
He said Utah became the 22nd state to cancel spring sports and activities, all of which made that decision because schools were not reopening for the remainder of the year.
“We’re an extension of the school day with extracurricular and co-curricular activities,” Cuff said. “We are very much a part of the education process. My staff and I have been involved in education as teachers and coaches and administrators. We’re in this together and all we can do is trust is this going stop or slow the spread of the disease and we can resume as soon as it is safe to resume.”
Cuff said that the association wanted to make sure they expressed in the statement that it recognized the devastating impact the announcement would have on athletes, coaches and fans, saying:
“The UHSAA Board of Trustees (Board) promotes the benefits of participating in education-based high school activities and recognizes the overwhelming disappointment this decision is for the students and athletes, especially seniors. The Board’s highest priority is ensuring the health and safety of the students, schools and communities during this challenging time and looks forward to the day when students are again participating in education-based activities. The Board will meet in the coming weeks to address any concerns that arise with member schools from the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Cuff said he wants all athletes but particularly the seniors to know he understands how tough this is.
“Nobody asked for this and it is nobody’s fault,” Cuff said. “That’s why you feel for these student-athletes who have put in so much time and energy. I’ve done that as a player and as a coach, and I’ve had kids participate in high school activities. I know what it means. To not have sports and activities feels really empty.
“I would tell them to just hang in there. Being part of education-based activities is about learning life lessons and sometimes things are thrown at you that you have no control over. This is one of them. How you react to the situation helps you to build courage, strength and endurance to go on and become a better individual.”
He’s been working for the UHSAA for 19 years and said he never dreamed something like this would happen.
“There are precedents in our association where we didn’t have state championships because of war, but never have we not had it for a situation like this,” Cuff said.
Cuff said it is too early to speculate about what will happen for the fall of 2020, when football, girls soccer, volleyball, girls tennis, boys golf and cross country competitions are scheduled to begin.
“We have no start dates for fall prior to July 4, so that gives us some time,” Cuff said. “The hope is that life is back to the way we knew it before — but I wouldn’t even want to speculate. There is no guidance we can provide to our member schools at this point. Those will be discussions we will have as we go forward.”
Further information can be found on the UHSAA website, http://uhsaa.org, as it becomes available.