The names of Lynchburg-area athletes can be found throughout the Virginia High School League’s record book.
Take a look. At every turn you’ll see recognizable names, just in football alone: Heritage’s Elijah Davis and Staunton River’s Grayson Overstreet, William Campbell’s Cedric Peerman and Shea Boyd, Brookville’s Logan Thomas and Kendall BeCraft, Gretna’s Vic Hall and Nick Miller.
For basketball, there are standouts like Altavista’s Juan Thornhill and Kenny Hunt. For cross country and track and field look at E.C. Glass’ Libby Davidson, Peter Seufer and brothers Michael and Matthew Zajac.
You get the idea. There are too many local names, both well-known and largely forgotten by time, to list in this space.
An introduction to the record book online, “Making A Mark,” details how the statewide collection brings recognition to athlete’s achievements. But athletes’ who have had their careers altered by the coronavirus pandemic likely won’t have the chance to enter the elite ranks. The odds are against them. 2020 may be a year of record, of incredible sadness for the sheer number of lives altered and ended by COVID-19, but it isn’t one for the sports record books.
Under the VHSL’s model for return to play, teams will play approximately 60% of normal regular-season schedules in 2020-21. Postseasons will be shortened, too. That means fewer chances to reach for history.
Coaches are concerned about endurance, that their athletes may not be in shape for the upcoming season. They’re focused on conditioning, on getting players to relearn old schemes and sharpen skills dulled by a nine-month layoff that forced athletes indoors or to work out on their own.
So we likely won’t see athletes trucking down field to touch Davis’ state-best rushing record for a single season (3,603 yards). No one getting even remotely close enough to challenge Overstreet’s impressive all-time best mark of 9,042 career rushing yards.
But still they work. They started 2020 with all the hope and determination youth can bring. They’ll end it, at best, with uncertainties about whether their futures will include the sports they love.
This week I spoke with Spencer Williams, a Jefferson Forest senior pitcher who signed his National Letter of Intent at Gardner Webb. Williams earned a Division I opportunity despite not yet throwing at the varsity level.
He suffered an elbow injury as a freshman on JV, sat out most of his sophomore season and then had his junior year upended because of the coronavirus.
If not for career-altering events, could Williams have had a chance to enter the record book? It’s impossible to say. But he did throw a complete-game shutout over the summer, striking out 12 in a national travel-ball championship in Georgia, so the southpaw has plenty of promise.
For teenagers like Williams, 2020 offers plenty of hurdles and no guarantees. We still don’t know for sure if sports will be staged amid the pandemic. Individual school districts could shut their athletes down and choose not to participate in the VHSL’s return-to-play plan. Outbreaks could occur on teams, forcing them to miss games or cancel their season.
I don’t have to repeat the tragic coronavirus numbers here, because you see them every day. I don’t have to tell you that right now this country is nearing record daily highs of 200,000 cases or that a shocking number of Americans — 254,000 and counting — have now died because of the virus.
But I do need to tell you about inspiration, and how you need only look around to find it these days.
It’s in the eyes of our local health workers fighting to save lives. In the work of local officials trying to bring people the education and necessities and health care they deserve. In the actions of local residents who believe they have a moral obligation to follow guidelines and keep their fellow citizens safe.
And inspiration can come from young athletes, too. They’re figuring out how to survive in a new world for which there is no roadmap, and they’re giving it their all — even when chances at the history books are stripped away and there’s no one watching from the stands, and all that’s left is the sheer joy of competing.
They continue to work in the shadow of the unknown. Sometimes, that’s the only way to leave your mark.
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