A High School Softball Team Reflects On Their Lost COVID Season And What It Means To Be Back
“We’ve got to take it one game at a time.” “Play every game like it’s your last.” We’re all familiar with these coach cliches, uttered in every pregame speech from tee-ball to the majors.
But Jessica Basford said this year when she utters those phrases, it does feel like they carry more weight. She’s the varsity softball coach at Auburn High School in Rockford. And she said that extra weight is because plenty of last year’s seniors played their last game without even realizing it before COVID canceled their final season.
“Every game is going to feel good -- win or lose, " she said. "It's just going to feel good to be out on the field.”
Luckily, some of last year’s seniors still got the chance to play at the next level -- but it was really hard.
This season isn’t exactly normal, but at least there is a season. There are travel restrictions and outdoor sports teams are still required to wear masks.
“I think I could tell them they had to wear hazmat suits," said Basford, "and they would because they just want to play.”
Madison Conklin is a junior on the softball team. She said school and sports schedules are still strange. It’s getting more “normal,” but COVID is still present in their minds.
“I kind of still think about it just because I've heard like other sports, like football, have been quarantining because of cases," said Conklin. "I just hope everybody can wear their masks and be safe throughout the season.”
The spring seasons even slightly overlap with rescheduled fall sports for a few weeks. There are several players on the team who are doing softball and volleyball at the same time, including their coach.
Maya Viel is a junior pitcher and infielder. The last time the team played, she was a new freshman -- now all of a sudden she’s an upperclassman ready to take on a leadership role.
Viel, along with some teammates, still got to play travel ball last summer, even if meant -- depending on where tournaments were allowed -- traveling out of state sometimes.
She’s also been training with her dad and sister in the garage and feels like she’s been able to develop her softball skills, despite no high school season. But more than anything, Maya’s ready to step back into the batter’s box.
“Honestly, I'm more excited to start hitting again. I really love hitting,” she said. “Mostly like duck snorts that'll just get me on base. And then I can run the bases. Get myself around. It's really fun.”
Jalyn Yakey is a sophomore. She’s thrilled to play and to win games, but there are also other parts of the experience she’s really looking forward to.
“I'm quite excited for the bus rides,” she said. “I think those will be a lot of fun with everyone on the team just enjoying the moment on the way to games.”
Their coach, Jessica Basford, has some pregame traditions she’s ready to get back to as well, like drawing the lines on the field with her assistant coach.
“We missed that, the ritual of making the field really nice," she said. "Like, we got to the point where we could draw our logo and chalk on the field.”
Along with coaching, Basford teaches biology, so she remembers those first conversations in her classes about potential shutdowns last year very clearly. Even when the season started being delayed, they were trying to keep the girls engaged with the team -- like Zoom workouts and a digital picture day.
“I had all the girls send me a picture of them in their uniform," said Basford, "and then I put it together [with my] very terrible Photoshop skills.”
But now, Maya Viel said, they’re ready to appreciate every inning together.
“I'm just kind of living in the moment of being back," she said, "and just letting myself get excited about it.”
One game at a time, and every game like it’s their last.