Each week we explore one question that affects Georgia high school sports with five coaches.
At Issue: Has it been possible for you to turn the coronavirus pandemic into a life lesson for your athletes?
The Skinny: The Westminster girls soccer program has won 13 state championships since its first title in 1996. Westminster was a favorite to win its 14th title this season and sixth under coach Clark Meyer. Meyer joined the program as an assistant coach in 1998, the year Westminster won its second state championship, and took over as head coach in 2007.
In 2013, Meyer led the Wildcats to a state championship in Class AA before Westminster reclassified to AAA. In 2015, Westminster won the first of five consecutive titles, including last season. Westminster was ranked at the top of Class AAA when the season was suspended by the pandemic.
In the grand scheme of things, soccer takes a backseat as Meyer and the Westminster try to weather these trying times as best they can, individually and as a socially distanced team.
Meyer: “I think it’s still early for us to have a lot of discussion about what may or may not happen. As you know, soccer ... soccer is not that important in the big scheme of things. We certainly would love to have the chance to take the field again with each other. It's not so much about state championships or anything along those lines, just the chance to return to normal, and I think that would be amazing.
“I mean, we talked the last time we were together. ... We had played the night before and usually start practice with a debrief of the game before, and there were some things for us to talk about in terms of the way we play and what we wanted to learn from that in a soccer sense. I told them that the purpose of playing high school sports is not about winning; it's not about glorifying yourself. Sports gives us an opportunity to build resilience, to risk putting yourself out in an uncertain field and risk what happens next. And then if there's anything that I would wish for my kids, my own kids or for my players, and that would be that they develop resilience, because life will certainly throw all kinds of situations at you.
“It’s a guarantee that life will throw situations that are going to require resilience. And so whatever we build on the field together and whatever we risk and whatever disappointments and whatever potential disappointments we weather, hopefully that’s prepared us for moments like this.
“It was sad for the seniors when we played on (March 10). Nobody said anything about it, but it was something that was in the back of my mind. So yeah, I thought about that on that night, and it was a great match. It was actually a really nice match to suspend on, and if it turns out to be our last match of the year, then I’ll take it. It was a fun game and against a very good team, and we performed really well. And that was super satisfying.
“But it’s not the same as a senior night. Usually on senior night, I end up having all my seniors on the field and then subbing them off in one group within the last minutes of the match, so they get recognition from the crowd. All my seniors who were there that night, they were all on the field heading in the last minute. We were comfortably ahead, and I wrestled with the decision. Do I substitute them together and send the message that this might be the last time around and at least have them take that with them, or is that just going to be unsettling? Should I go with business-as-usual? And I decided to go with business-as-usual.
“There are so many things that are more important that we must worry about. It’s always a nice moment to celebrate your seniors and certainly it was not the way that they would have scripted the season. ... I paid close attention to the news and understand the science well enough for a lay person. And I remember thinking pretty much when we took the field for the first time ... I was really focused on, ‘Gosh, I hope we get the season in.’
“I guess I was already worried about the possibility, and then the way (the coronavirus) advanced, the less I was worried about getting the season in. I definitely had it on the radar screen and could see (suspension) getting closer and closer. When we came back (from spring break) on Monday, we were getting ready to play on Tuesday. I think at that point, we all were uncertain about what the future would bring.
“We played Tuesday; we practiced Wednesday, and the official word from the school was that varsity athletics would finish out the week. Our next match wasn’t going to be until Friday, so I didn’t see any real point for us gathering and prolonging, or you know, creating opportunities for additional exposure. It just felt like time to hunker down. The teachers had a Herculean task ahead of us of trying to go virtual in two days and adapt everything that we’re doing. So I just didn’t have the bandwidth, and dealt with the uncertainty of what happens next. It was tough on us. On Thursday we just said let’s just wait and see what the future brings.”
AT ISSUE: Teaching adversity
• Chan Brown, Parkview baseball coach
• Brad Harber, Crisp County football coach
• Clark Meyer, Westminster girls soccer coach
• Josh Sagel, Lambert lacrosse coach
• Burt Waller, Starr’s Mill golf coach
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