Column: Sports with Simmons – Reflections on a Season Cut Short

On March 16, USA Ultimate cancelled all remaining tournaments for the spring semester. Our entire season vaporized into thin air. 

We were done.

We realized that we would not see each other for the remainder of the year. So as members of Liberty University’s club ultimate frisbee team, we met one last time at a Shakers close to campus. 

Only seven of the 27 players showed up, but each moment was precious.

As the orders of ribeye steaks, catfish and nachos came around, we swapped stories from the past season and shared our favorite memories of the lone senior at the table. 

Josh Sumpter (better known on the team as “Specs” for the glasses he wore in games) had played his last tournament, and even though the depressing reality hung over the conversation like a storm cloud, it did not prevent us from laughing hysterically as we rehashed the best tales of our favorite red-headed freak of nature.

Theoretically, this could have been a picture-perfect ending to a season and to the career of our senior. Guys being guys, eating food and cracking jokes. What more could we want?

But in a larger context, it was far from the ending we wanted.

March started just like any other month. I had my normal responsibilities: homework, classes and two jobs. But through this never-ceasing college life grind, I was looking forward to the Oak Creek Invite on March 14 and 15. Not only would this break up the mundane flow of college life, but I would have a chance to play against Michigan.

Yes, the Michigan Magnum, ranked No. 14 in the country, was coming to little Axton, Virginia. Without question, this would be the biggest game in the history of our program. Excitement, expectation and suspense were at an all-time high for Flames ultimate in the week before the tournament.

Then COVID-19 hit. Hard.

Within weeks, the coronavirus had crippled the United States and the world, far beyond the scope of sports. 

In addition to the NBA, MLB, NHL and March Madness all getting canceled or suspended for the foreseeable future, all 50 states scrambled to contain this virus that infected more citizens each day. But in the week leading up to the tournament, the Oak Creek Invite was planning to continue as normal.

On March 12, my coach told us the news we hoped we wouldn’t hear: there would be no tournament. Too many teams had withdrawn because they were concerned about spreading COVID-19.

 A few days later, we heard the news that the rest of the season was cancelled. 

I was left grappling with what to do next. What seemed so certain suddenly vanished. Liberty declared that all classes would be moved online, so going home for the year became a real possibility. And with travel restrictions and risks tightening each day, I was forced to plan how I would spend my last few days on campus.

Sadness crept into my heart as I slowly realized that this moment was the end for this year’s band of brothers as I sat around that table at Shakers where we met for the last time. 

A season that started with hopes of making a run at nationals came to a screeching halt. It’s ironic when everything you can see and hold dear is taken away by something you can’t see.

You might think that this is something ridiculous for me to obsess about. On the surface, it is. I don’t get a scholarship for playing, our team doesn’t garner hundreds of fans like many Liberty sporting teams and it takes up precious time during my week, something we all wish we had more of. You might say it’s a blessing in disguise that our season is done.

But ultimate has brought me some of the best times of my college life.

I never thought I would play a college sport, but I ended up here. I never thought I would be able to say that I have competed against schools like Duke, Wake Forest, UNC Chapel Hill and Rutgers, but now I can. I never thought I would excel at a sport at this level, but now I have.

And I have done it with the best of teammates I’ve ever played with. The memories are endless with this team, and I’m going to miss them. 

I will miss the sunburns on my face and the turf burn on my shins. I’ll miss the sore legs from running and the parched throats from screaming. I’ll miss our ridiculous cheers and all the inside jokes. I’ll miss the high-fives and side-bumps and the unique laughs of everyone on the team. I’ll miss Dan Mills’ incredible skies, Caleb Weldy’s absurd layouts and Austin Heston’s hucks that somehow find their target – sometimes.

I’ll miss the sock wrestling and Smash Bros. tournaments, and the nights we had in the hotel, and all the fun we had poking fun at each other. That is why I play, not for the compensation that Division I athletes get, but for the unadulterated love of sport and the camaraderie it brings.

But time has run out on this season. I wish that I had realized how special these times were in the moment.

And maybe that’s exactly the point. I am not guaranteed another day on this earth, another breath of fresh air in my lungs or another heartbeat in my chest. Anything that happens during these short few years of existence is something that could easily disappear.  

With everything in my life on halt, I must wrestle with this question: where is my foundation? Is it the quicksand of surface-level things, or the rock of a relationship with Someone else?

If I ever get back on the field, I will never take those moments for granted. But more importantly, I have realized that life is too precious a gift to take for granted. This season and that night at Shakers will forever be a reminder of that. 

Simmons is a social media manager. Follow him over on Twitter.

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