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The City Journals

The season that never was: Highland track coach reflects on cancellation

May 13, 2020 11:38AM ● By Josh McFadden

Highland track athlete Hadley Devey was set to enjoy her senior season with the team. The COVID-19 pandemic cut it short. (Photo by Jenny Mauro)

By Josh McFadden | [email protected]

During the first part of March, Highland track and field coach Gary Rowles was delighted to see a record-high 177 athletes showing up for tryouts.

Sadly, none of them ever participated in more than one meet.

The Rams gathered on March 11 for the season-opening meet. Two days later, Rowles learned that school and all activities would be suspended for two weeks due to the coronavirus pandemic. On March 24, the Utah High School Activities Association extended the suspension to May 1. By April 14, officials cancelled the entire season after Utah Gov. Gary Herbert ordered all schools to remain closed for the rest of the academic year.

“Once school was cancelled and sports along with it, it was devastating for many,” Rowles said.  

Rowles and his athletes had hoped competition would resume by May 4, and the team would compete in a shortened season. It wasn’t to be. Now, the freshmen, sophomores and juniors on the squad must wait a long 10 months before coming together for the next season. Highland’s seniors will never compete as Rams again.

“As a coach, there's always next year, but it's been difficult for all of us, especially our seniors,” he said. “Our girls team had some outstanding girls returning, and we had an opportunity to compete very well at the region and state level. Our boys team had a lot of new faces and with such a large turnout, many were just figuring out the events they wanted to do.”

In Highland’s one and only meet this season, Nalu Mack broke the school record in the boys javelin. Other seniors were eager to showcase their talents for college scouts as they prepared to move on to the next level. Rowles said it’s an opportunity lost for those athletes, though some are planning on walking on at colleges. Senior Annie Murdock had already signed with the University of Utah.

“We were relieved that she didn't have to count on her senior year in order to have that opportunity for a scholarship,” Rowles said.

During the suspension and subsequent cancellation, coaches aren’t allowed to have team meetings, so the boys and girls have “mostly been on their own,” Rowles said. He posted workouts online for those who wanted to stay in shape prior the cancellation announcement. Some Ram track and field athletes are training on their own.

Across the world, everyone is feeling the effects of COVID-19 in one way or another. For these high school athletes, Rowles knows the impact is significant. Still, he sees some silver lining and knows that the boys and girls, particularly the seniors, can learn lessons from this trial.

“Never take anything for granted,” he said. “You can't live your life thinking, ‘wait until next year.’” You have to give your best effort at whatever you do in the moment because there might not be a ‘next year.’ Value your health and take care of yourself. Value those closest to you: family, friends and neighbors. Believe that things are going to get better and we all have a bright future.”