What losing out on a final track and field season feels like for four high school seniors

Shalise Manza Young
Yahoo Sports Columnist

On Saturday, I’m supposed to be on a school campus in northeast Connecticut. I’m supposed to be in my coaching polo and lucky leggings, a backpack with relay batons, pencils, chalk, sunscreen, and even an extra uniform top inside tight against my back.

I’m supposed to be covering every corner of the track and field, encouraging and embracing and yelling like a madwoman for the 35 girls on the Winsor School team as we go for our sixth straight conference championship, celebrating and consoling them, checking in with the other three coaches and constantly looking at the scoring sheets.

But it’s not happening. School has been closed since March 12 due to the coronavirus pandemic, and the spring athletics season is officially gone.

Of the 35 girls on our roster, we had four seniors, four girls among tens of thousands across the country who had one last chance to compete for their schools taken away from them by a global pandemic. My heart breaks for them because as with so many high school athletes, not all of them will continue competing at their respective colleges. They won’t get another chance to set a personal record or win an individual medal at the conference or New England championships.

We had four practices before COVID interfered; we still “see” many of the girls through biweekly Zoom check-ins, when we do core together and chat about running or Tik Tok dances or whatever they’ve been binge-watching to pass the time.

Indi Aufranc, India Glenn, Isabella Sibble and Winnie Wang have been members of the Winsor team for varying lengths of time — Aufranc took a couple of seasons off before returning for a fourth year this spring; Glenn, a three-time reigning conference champ in high jump, is in her sixth; Sibble is in her fourth, and Wang in her fifth, having spent last spring studying abroad.

Aufranc is headed to Johns Hopkins University, Glenn to Kenyon College, Sibble to American University of Paris, and Wang to Middlebury. Wang plans to continue running, and Glenn is leaning toward it.

Here in their words is what it’s like to be a high school senior and have your final season unexpectedly taken (interviews have been edited for clarity and space).

When did you realize there wouldn’t be a season? Did you hold out hope there would be a couple of meets?

Wang: “I kind of thought that we would't be coming back to school after spring break [originally scheduled for March 14-29]. I definitely didn't expect it to be for this long. Winsor sent out an email, ‘we are planning on opening school up again on May 11.’ And I knew that even if we did come back to school May 11, by then it would be past [the conference meet].”

Aufranc: “The beginning of all this was incredibly chaotic and nobody really knew anything that was going to happen, so I was unsure about pretty much everything going forward after school was cancelled. We didn't even know whether March 12 was going to be our last day of school ever; I remember walking into homeroom that afternoon and seeing people hugging each other and crying, since we had no idea whether this was going to be the last time we were all together.”

Sibble: “There was a period of 72 hours when they blocked travel to Europe and our mock trial state competition was canceled ... and at that point I thought there is just no way that they are going to be able to make it safe in a month that we can have 50 to 100 students who are sweating, breathing hard, interacting with one another in close proximity, as well as parents, coaches, officials. I loved the optimism from everybody, but it was probably mid-March when I just thought there is no way.”

Glenn: “The week before we officially went on to spring break ... We were tracking the spread of coronavirus in Italy and as that was getting worse our trip [to Italy] got canceled, and then all of the other school trips were canceled, and that was when the [severity of the] outbreak really hit me.”

What were your goals for this season?

Aufranc: “My biggest goal was to PR (personal record) in the 3000-meter for the first time since seventh grade! My eighth grade and freshman seasons I wasn't incredibly happy with, but I knew that my running had improved drastically and I wanted to end my high school career on a high note. I would have loved to have raced the 3K ... to score points for Winsor.”

Wang: “I definitely wanted to get some PRs. ... But I didn't really set too many goals because I didn't want to have too high expectations after missing junior season. I did want to have the best season of my life for high school.”

Sibble: “I was really looking forward to breaking 30 feet in the triple jump, maybe 31. I had a great cross country season — I didn't have any injuries and I was looking forward to bringing that strength and confidence into track season. [As a team captain] I was looking forward to being a bridge between lower and upper school [the team is grades 7-12].”

Glenn: “I did think that this season I would be able to break my PR and potentially either jump at the school record or maybe jump like an inch or so higher than that. In 10th grade when I first jumped 5-feet, I think that's when the goal of either jumping for the school record [5-foot-3] or breaking the school record became something that was tangible.”

What are you missing most about not having practice and meets?

Sibble: “The feeling when you get off the bus either at a meet or practice and the sun is shining, everyone's in a good mood and chatting during warmups. There's a camaraderie that is so deep and that I find only exists in track season. I miss people leaning on each other, everyone supporting one another. I miss seeing it in people's faces when they're really pushing themselves, and then seeing that play out at [conference champs], when we really have an incredible meet and people get PRs that they're proud of.”

Glenn: “All of those little in-between moments really just [bring] us so much closer together. That's something I really miss and I was really looking forward to again this season ... I was looking forward to seeing the incredible growth that happens every season for basically everyone on the team [and] being there to celebrate the progress that all of us have made, because we've all been out there training and really working our hardest.”

Aufranc: “Seeing my teammates every day. I almost never dread practice — unless there is a particularly nasty workout planned — because I look forward to spending time with the girls on the team. In my experience, almost everyone who runs track is positive, encouraging, and fun to be around, so team spirit is usually high.”

Wang: “I really just miss the small things I feel like we make so many fun memories on our long bus rides. I miss ice cream runs. I miss the camaraderie and just whenever we're doing a workout and the distance people are running and the sprinters will cheer us on and we'll do the same. I just miss seeing everyone every day. And running alone is just not fun.”

How are you feeling through all of this?

Glenn: “[Initially] I didn't know what to make of it because there was also just so much going on outside of track and track was just one of the many things that I was processing. So many things were getting shut down and coming to a close. But I think once I kind of had the chance to think about it for a bit, I just was very sad.”

Aufranc: “I'm still trying to come to terms with the loss of many moments and experiences that were supposed to be capstones of my high school years. I'm incredibly saddened by not being able to spend these final months of senior year with my classmates. However the situation at hand is out of our control, so I've been trying to turn some of this sadness into gratitude for the ways I have been able to stay in touch with my friends and the communities I'm part of, Winsor track included.”

Wang: “I wasn't angry but I also have accepted that these things are completely out of my control. I'm definitely disappointed because I did a lot more [winter training]; I decided to try to do some more strength training, more core. I was more conscious of what I was doing in making more of an effort to enter track injury-free and as strong as I could.”

Sibble: “When it comes to track, 96% of the time I'm OK. I believe in the efforts that we're making to work through coronavirus and everything that we're doing I know has a big impact on things bigger than ourselves. And then there are just moments when I think to myself: I most likely will never triple jump again; I most likely will never improve my [sprinting] times. There are those pockets of sadness ... that I let sort of linger. But then you come back and you realize the team will go on. And that's partly due to our legacy; that's partly due to the resilience that I know the team has, and this will only make it stronger.”

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