On March 6, the Walton Raiders boys lacrosse team defeated Cambridge 12-6 to improve to 6-2. They didn’t know it at the time, but that would be the last game they’d play — possibly for the remainder of the school year.
On March 12, The GHSA recommended its member schools suspend all spring activities indefinitely, a decision that followed Brian Kemp’s press conference earlier in the day in which he recommended school districts and day care centers consider closing for two weeks.
Circumstances have only worsened in the time since the lacrosse season was initially postponed, leaving programs to hope for the best.
“I’m trying to keep a positive viewpoint so that the team doesn’t lose hope,” said Walton boys coach Griffin Spotz, whose Raiders won the 6A-7A championship last season. “This is one of the best senior classes I’ve ever had and it’s one of the best in the state. I don’t want there to be any negativity where they think that their career is over. So, I am keeping faith that they can play.”
While there’s still hope for salvaging the season, on Tuesday the GHSA released the following the statement, in part:
The GHSA is an extension of our member schools in providing education-based sports and activities. As such, and in response to Governor Kemp's mandatory closure of Georgia's public schools, the mandatory closure will extend to all GHSA sports and activities including practice. Schools are scheduled to reopen on March 31 and we will follow the guidance available to us at that time.
For the Raiders, their title defense was stopped dead in its tracks. They had a scheduled one-week break following the Cambridge game as they geared up for a crucial Area 4 game with Kennesaw Mountain on March 13. It was a much-needed break for the Raiders, as they’d yet to play at full-strength due to various injuries of different players.
Initially, there was a belief the Raiders would be allowed to play their Friday game. Games were being played on Thursday and Fulton County Public Schools, of which Walton is a member, was planning to shutdown its schools beginning Monday. However, shortly before Thursday’s games began, Kemp held a press conference where he recommended state schools consider closing. At that point, FCPS closed its doors and canceled all school functions, including sports.
“We’d yet to play a game at full strength and the Kennesaw Mountain game was going to be it,” Spotz said. “We played some really good teams (No. 1 Lambert, A-5A’s No. 2 Westminster, No. 6 Allatoona, nationally-ranked Ponte Vedra, Fla.) without all our players so we were imagining our team with all of the pieces to the puzzle. We know what we can do. We proved that last year...obviously, we were bummed.”
On the girls’ side, the Milton Lady Eagles’ dynastic run has been put on hold after a 4-0 start that had them sitting at No. 3 in the USLacrosse Magazine’s South Girls’ Top 10 poll. Since Lacrosse became a GHSA-sanctioned sport in 2005, the Lady Eagles have won the state’s championship in the highest classification in all seasons but two. They’re currently a three-time defending state champion.
The Lady Eagles are considered a national powerhouse by their elite counterparts across the country and as such, they host an annual event known as Legacy Cup, which has run every year since 2008. This year’s cup was scheduled for March 20-21 and would have featured 12 teams, seven of which are out-of-state and as far away as Oregon.
“The event is pretty much at capacity with the number of teams and finding fields to play on,” said Milton coach Tim Godby, who has guided the Lady Eagles since their championship run began. “All but two are returning teams that’d been here before and wanted to come back. So, that says a lot about the event and the impact it’s had on those who have participated.”
Teams traveling to play in the cup had already made travel arrangements. Some were busing in from neighboring states. Good Counsel out of Olney, Md., asked for an official cancellation letter to send to the airline it’d booked with.
In addition, another longtime tradition of Milton’s was canceled. For 12 years, the Lady Eagles used spring break to travel to Alexandria, Va., where they’d play in the Spring Fling, hosted by St. Stephen’s & St. Agnes School. This year would have marked the 29th edition, featuring 26 schools. Participants would have included five teams ranked in the USLacrosse Magazine National Girls’ Top 25: host SSSA at No. 2, No. 5 St. Anthony’s (N.Y.), No. 8 Episcopal Academy (Pa.), No. 15 Georgetown Visitation (D.C.) and No. 25 Notre Dame Prep (Md.).
Last week, the Lady Eagles were one of the last teams to play, getting their Thursday game in — a 19-9 win over Centennial — before their season was halted. Unlike the Walton boys, they knew at the time it would be their last game until circumstances improve, which may not happen in time to resume play this year.
“In the back of my mind I thought this could be our last game,” Godby said. “But I didn’t want to act like that toward the team or get the seniors upset so I kind of just proceeded like business as usual.”
However, even before the season was canceled business had not been shaping up as usual. Rain usually reserved for April was pouring heavily for almost all of February and March, severely limiting the team’s ability to get in on-the-field practice sessions.
“It’s been a strange turn of events this season.”
There have been no definitive discussions on how to resume the season should the GHSA lift its suspension on sports activities. The general line of thinking across all sports is to prioritize playing as many region/area games as possible. Maybe there’s only a region/area tournament before the state playoffs, which for lacrosse is slated, as of now, to begin on April 29.
In the meantime, the GHSA lacrosse community can only wait and see.
“It’s tough,” Spotz said. “All this time, you tell your kids to make the most of high school because you only get it one time around. Then they buy in and do everything they’re supposed to do, everything you ask of them and they put their whole heart into it and then (the season) gets robbed from them.
“That’s especially tough on the seniors because they didn’t know. They didn’t have time to say goodbye to the sport or the team or emotionally prepare for this.”
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