WAYNE — From the outside, there weren’t many expectations for the Wayne High School Pioneers baseball team in regards to the upcoming season.
When Todd Ross left his position as head coach at the conclusion of the 2018 season when the Pioneers finished as state runner-up in Class AA, the team went from finishing second in the state that year to completing their next season with just two wins in former assistant Adam Adkins’ first season at the helm.
Not only were the Pioneers dealing with a new coach last season, but also a major turnover in talent having lost eight starters from their 2018 State Tournament roster.
As sudden as the change was from 2018 to 2019 for the Wayne baseball team, 2020 had an even bigger obstacle for them.
Coronavirus Disease 2019, or COVID-19 for short. The spike in confirmed cases worldwide quickly moved COVID-19 from a simple outbreak to pandemic status as it made it’s way across the globe and eventually spread to all 50 states in the US.
West Virginia Governor Jim Justice announced the state’s first confirmed case of COVID-19 Tuesday evening, which was discovered in the state’s Eastern Panhandle.
Five days earlier, the West Virginia Secondary Schools Athletic Commission suspended play of the girls basketball state tournament and postponed the start of the boys tournament which was supposed to have begun March 17.
“This hit us hard. We knew it was going to have some sort of impact on our baseball season but didn’t quite expect this,” Adkins said.
That reaction to the Friday, March 13 announcement that all extra-curricular activities —including spring sports — was backed by a slew of emotion from the second-year coach.
“This is my second year in and I’ve never experienced anything like this, where a season was about to start and was cancelled so quickly,” said Adkins. “Personally, it impacted me a lot. I didn’t know how to answer some of the questions the kids were asking, had no idea what to tell them. I was at a loss for words.”
Questions abound as to whether they’d get a chance to play this season, and if they did when would that be. Questions persist on how to keep themselves ready for the season if it should continue at some point this year.
It was supposed to be a defining year for the program, which brought back a young core from a year ago with some new pieces, and had a little more confidence when stepping out on the diamond.
“We went for our first scrimmage (at Raceland) and played scoreless into the sixth inning, and man our pitching was looking good and our hitting was coming around,” Adkins said.
By his estimate, there were a few winnable games early in the season. It would have been a chance to build some confidence where there was none before.
In 2018, Wayne began the year by losing its first six games. The Pioneers won their seventh of the year, a 9-5 victory over cross-county rival Tolsia, but went on another six-game losing streak following the win.
Sitting at 1-12, they picked up their final win of the season against Mingo Central on April 10 — 4-3 in extra innings — before losing their final 11 games, finishing 2-23. They lost by double-digits a dozen times and were shutout in half those games.
“They want to win, especially after having a season like they did a year ago. They were going out there with something to prove this year and that’s what I was so excited about,” said Adkins.
“It’s heartbreaking for the kids. It was taken away from us so fast with no ideas about what might happen moving forward.”
It’s yet to be determined whether or Adkins and Pioneers will get a chance to see if the off-season efforts were enough to get things turned around for Wayne this season. The earliest resumption for high school athletics in West Virginia comes exactly one year from the Pioneers’ last victory — April 10.
“If we start then, we could get maybe a 10-game season in,” Adkins said.
While the season is currently suspended, not cancelled, other leagues are setting a precedent where there previously was none on how to handle competition during this pandemic.
The NCAA cancelled the College World Series for both baseball and softball. Individual conferences such as the Big 12 and Conference USA have cancelled all athletic events for the spring season.
Professional organizations such as the NBA, MLB, MLS, various other soccer leagues, WWE and UFC, have ceased competition during this time. NFL coaches and scouts aren’t travelling and the 2020 Draft will be closed to the general public.
With the precedent set, it wouldn’t be out of the question for high school athletics to follow suit given the severity of the situation. That would mean an abrupt end to the high school careers of seniors throughout the Mountain State and the country, and the end of sports entirely for those who might not play at the next level.
“One positive thing for us is that if we do lose this year entirely, we’re not losing any seniors,” said Adkins.
“We’re going to come back with the same group this time next year.”