Tears and Disbelief as Coronavirus Cancels Youth Sports

U.S.A. Gymnastics canceled a meet over the past weekend that was to bring 1,600 athletes and their families to the LakePoint Sporting Community in Emerson, Ga., one of more than a dozen facilities built around the nation to be like a cruise ship for youth sports. Now, its eight baseball diamonds and dozen basketball courts are idle through March 29 and perhaps longer.

“We are fully booked through mid-August,” said Dean Keener, a LakePoint vice president for business development as well as a former college basketball coach. “I hope everyone gets their seasons back. We’re not going to rush it.”

While the Universal Cheerleaders Association held a truncated version of its International All Star Championship on Saturday at Disney’s ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Florida, most high school athletic associations canceled events.

On Thursday, even before Idaho had reported any coronavirus cases, the Idaho High School Activities Association announced that the upcoming state cheer and dance championships would be postponed.

“The scene changed hourly it seemed from Wednesday to the end of the week,” Bruce Howard, a spokesman for the National Federation of State High School Associations, said.

New Jersey, for instance, insisted initially that its tournaments would be held as scheduled, only to encounter logistical difficulties as some host sites, like Rutgers, banned large events and a handful of high schools said they would not send teams to compete. By Thursday, New Jersey officials decided to cancel all championship games.

By Sunday morning, only three more states held championships — Nebraska, New Mexico and Louisiana — all of which limited fans and people in the venues to fewer than 250 people. Missouri wrapped up some of its championships, but not all, and there was no indication whether the remaining ones would take place, Howard said.

With championships not played in two-thirds of the country, the revenue that one million fans generate was gone from state high school association budgets.

At Central Park in New York on Sunday, Will Freel, 11, organized a three-on-three basketball tournament for nearly a dozen other sixth graders. On Friday, he learned that his track season was over and his lacrosse season was suspended.

“I’m very bummed,” he said. “My teams were where a lot of my friends are. It’s boring to sit around. I’m going to try to play a lot on my own.”

The Aspen Institute’s Project Play has set up a website to keep parents abreast of the shifting youth sports landscape as well as to offer tips on keeping their children safe, healthy and exercising.

In Massachusetts, the Wellesley High School girls’ hockey team had been gunning for a third straight state title, with the championship set for Sunday against Canton High School at TD Garden in Boston. But the team learned after practice on Thursday that all boys’ and girls’ finals would be canceled, prematurely ending the careers of seven Raiders seniors.

One of the senior captains, Bridget Noonan, said the players stayed in the locker room for two hours reflecting upon what they had accomplished in a challenging season: one girl had been out with mononucleosis, several had injuries and nearly everyone was out with flulike symptoms at some point.

“It was more genuine heartbreak than anger,” Noonan, who will play lacrosse next season at Virginia Tech, said.

Another captain, Emily Rourke, who scored the winning goal in last year’s state final, said she was with several teammates on Sunday at exactly 5:45 p.m. — the scheduled start of the final.

“We could just picture so clearly what would be happening,” said Rourke, who will play hockey next season for Hobart and William Smith Colleges. “We’d be skating up to take the face-off with all the fans. It just felt really real when it got to 5:45.”

Swimming, too, had cancellations at all levels.

The Y.M.C.A. short-course national championship, scheduled for March 30 to April 3 in Greensboro, N.C., will not be held for the first time since 1947. More than 1,400 swimmers — plus coaches and family members — were expected to descend upon Greensboro and generate an estimated $5 million in economic impact.

Jon Jolley, the director of competitive swimming at the Hickory Foundation Y.M.C.A. in Hickory, N.C., outside Charlotte, knew how important the championship meets were for high school juniors trying to lower their times and make themselves more appealing to college recruiters. He also wanted to do something for high school seniors who would not be swimming in college.

He tried to organize an alternate meet to the Y.M.C.A. nationals for Greensboro. It was met with decidedly mixed reviews.

“It was the spectrum — I had lovers out there, I had haters out there,” said Jolley, who has coached for 33 years.

But as the week wore on, and as more and more professional and collegiate sporting events were nixed, “we decided it just wasn’t worth it,” he said.

Instead, his own club held what he called a mock meet on Friday and Saturday, to give swimmers a sense of finality. It wasn’t easy, he said.

“I’ve got teenage girls crying,” Jolley said. “One of them said to me, ‘This is the most depressing day of my life.’ I said, ‘All your hard work will pay off in the future.’”

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