Life really isn’t fair but God’s love still abounds

Anderson County’s Sophie Smith drives past Franklin County’s Jazmin Chambers in the opening round of the Mingua Beef Jerky/KHSAA Girls’ Sweet 16 at Rupp Arena on March 11. Anderson earned a 40-37 win but the following day the tournament was postponed and eventually canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Unexpected end to sports a time to apply the lessons sports teaches; Remember God’s love never fades

By John Herndon,

All I can say is I’m sorry.

I can’t really tell that senior shortstop who won’t get another chance to go deep in the hole that I know how he feels. 

I can’t tell that sprinter I know the feeling of not putting her feet against the blocks again. 

I can’t tell that tennis player I know not having the exhiliration of getting one more ace or advancing in that last regional tournament.

I just can’t. I can try, but I’ve never had anything like that happen in my life. 

And I surely can’t know the pain that 16 boys basketball teams and 11 girls teams feel right now. They were still alive with a shot of a state championship when their seasons abruptly ended on March 12. They’d won their regions and advanced to the pinnacle of Kentucky high school basketball only to see everything stop because of something most of us had never heard of before, a coronavirus.

Casey County’s Jordyn Stephens drives past Pikeville’s Kelsey Jo Tackett in the Mingua Beef Jerky/KHSAA Girls’ Sweet 16 at Rupp Arena on March 11. Both are seniors and were playing in their final game. Casey prevailed, 49-46, but did not get to play another game due to the tournament’s subsequent cancellation because of the coronavirus. (Photos by Stephanie Herndon)

If you remember, the Mingua Beef Jerky/KHSAA Girls’ Sweet 16 had already begun. I was sitting on press row in Rupp Arena on Wednesday night, March 11. I closely watched Casey County defeat Pikeville and then watched Anderson County, the school from which I graduated and then covered as a sports editor for 34 years, defeat an old rival, Franklin County, in as good a high school game as you could imagine.

I’d planned to be back on Thursday night and all day on Friday, Saturday and Sunday for that tournament, but on Thursday afternoon, I started reading reports on Twitter that the tournament would be postponed. A few moments after South Laurel had upset Sacred Heart in Thursday’s first game, the official announcement came.

Henderson County and Marshall County, the teams set to play the second game, never even got a chance to warm up.

The tournament would be “postponed,” but soon it became clear it would not get back underway. There’s no question the Kentucky High School Athletic Association did all it could to make it happen, but there was just no possible way to do so without putting too many people at risk of COVID-19.

For any high school athlete, seeing the end of the season hit like it did, and not on the playing field, it’s a shame. To most seniors, it’s devastating as they know they’ll never play an organized sport again. The cold facts are most athletes won’t play college sports, whether it’s the NCCAA, NAIA or NCAA.

But as sad as it is, it might be the perfect opportunity to apply the most basic lesson nearly every coach repeats more than anyone could count.

Franklin County’s Brooklynn Miles drives on Anderson County’s Amiya Jenkins in the Mingua Beef Jerky/KHSAA Girls’ Sweet 16 on March 11. Anderson prevailed, 40-37, but did not play another game when the tournament was canceled.

“Play the next play.”

“Don’t let one bad hole become several bad holes.”

Keep taking the ball to the basket.”

Focus on what you can control.”

“It’s how you respond to adversity that determines your success.”

Yes, it’s sad. It’s not how anyone wanted to end the 2019-2020 seasons. It’s not how anyone envisioned spending his or her final semester of high school. It’s not how anyone wanted to end an athletic career.

But a pandemic happened. It’s fashionable to say that some things are just bigger than sports — and it is a correct statement — but if we truly believe sports teach about life, then what the world has been experiencing in the last few months is a professor in the grad school of life. We can lament what happened. We can grieve. And we must learn.

If anything, COVID-19 has taught us nothing is certain in life. While the elderly are at increased risk, the virus has claimed young people too. Athletes such as Kevin Durant, Marcus Smart and Donovan Mitchell have been infected, but recovered. Popular country music singer Joe Diffie died from the disease. 

Millions have filed unemployment claims. Colleges shut down in March with students now learning at their kitchen tables or in their bedrooms via online learning.

Pikeville players leave the floor in tears after Casey County ended the Panthers’ season, 49-46, in the first round of the Girls’ Sweet 16 on March 11. The following day, the tournament was canceled.

It’s not fair, but life isn’t fair. Nearly all of us know of a stud running back whose career is cut short by a knee injury. Nearly all of us know of someone who lost a loved one far too soon because of cancer. As a high school sophomore, I watched from a hill on our farm as a tornado roared a couple of miles to the north. The same tornado took several lives in Frankfort and left a long path of devastation. Some people lost everything they owned, but close by, other people were left untouched.

Anderson County coach Clay Birdwhistell talks with senior Anna Foley during the Lady Bearcats’ win over Franklin County at the Mingua Beef Jerky/KHSAA Girls’ Sweet 16 at Rupp Arena on March 11. It turned out to be Foley’s final game of her high school career.

And in the sports world, a story in a recent edition of The Indianapolis Star noted that five people who attended a sectional basketball game near Indianapolis — the equivalent of a Kentucky district tournament — on March 5 contracted COVID-19 and died. It’s the kind of story that puts so many things in perspective.

Today, high school seniors who should be excited about graduating in a few weeks are now wondering if they will even have a ceremony. Students who would be making those last visits to finalize college plans wonder if colleges will even open this fall. 

Life really isn’t fair and I can’t express how sorry I am that things ended this way in 2020.

But through whatever life brings, there’s something greater than a championship trophy or a Senior Night. It’s what Paul wrote about in Romans 8:38-39.

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,[neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (NIV)

Anderson County fans cheer the Lady Bearcats on in the final minute of their 40-37 win over Franklin County in the opening round of the Girls’ Sweet 16.

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