Brandon Pearson didn’t get off the blocks well when the starter pistol crackled through the air Thursday afternoon.
But sometimes, it’s all about how you finish. Sporting a cast on his right hand and wrist courtesy of a broken thumb, the E.C. Glass senior caught fire in the 100-meter dash and blazed to victory.
Similar scenes are taking place this week all across the Lynchburg area. Spring sports, canceled last year by the coronavirus pandemic, are in full swing. And it’s great to be back.
“It feels really good,” Pearson said. “We missed outdoor [track] last year. I was mad about that.”
For Pearson, the return to spring sports is especially gratifying. Prior to the pandemic, he suffered a broken left ankle in football practice and was sidelined six months. Then spring sports were wiped out and everyone went into lockdown mode.
On the other side of Glass’ sprawling campus, Amherst prepared to take on the Hilltoppers in the Seminole District’s first baseball game of the season. Lancers shortstop Christian Martin, a Virginia Tech signee, was just minutes away from the start of his senior season.
“It means a lot, especially for guys who haven’t played since last year,” said Martin, who had the added benefit of playing travel baseball during the pandemic. “... It’s been plus-365 days since they’ve been out here, so it means a lot. It’s been building up since last fall, since conditioning started.”
Like other athletes, he tried his best to stay busy last spring.
“We had worked so hard for that season and it felt like all that work had gone to waste,” Martin said. “But I still tried to make the most of it. I still worked out at home as much as I could, hit in the cage. Had to stay active during that to be the best you could.”
In the opposite dugout, E.C. Glass senior Charlie Elwell was hoping to start the abbreviated 12-game season strong. Even though the season is condensed, he’s grateful for the opportunity, knowing the Class of 2020 wasn’t so lucky.
“It was really a bummer getting junior year canceled but after that, [when] COVID kind of starting dying down, the chances [of playing] were getting better and better,” said Elwell, who plays shortstop and center field in addition to taking on pitching duties. “Once I heard we were getting a 12-game season I was like, “Eh, a little shorter, but we still get to come out here and play. It’s just good to be back out here.”
In Appomattox on Wednesday, every available outdoor athletic venue was full. The girls tennis team practiced next to the football squad, the last remaining gridiron gang still playing in the area (the Raiders play in the Class 2 state championship Saturday). The girls soccer team took on the boys squad in practice. Softball was in full swing. Ditto for the baseball team.
Raiders outfielder Zach Dillon is soaking in the moment of his senior season. His brother Adam, older by a year, didn’t get that opportunity. A member of the 2020 class, there was only one chance for Adam: the Dogwood District Senior Game, held in August at Lynchburg’s Bank of the James Park, home of the Hillcats.
“He was crushed by that,” Zach Dillon said of his brother losing those final high school opportunities. Zach tried to relax during lockdown and practice when he could. But Wednesday, there were all those full fields and all the sounds of sports taking place, and Dillon knew his time is now.
“It’s great,” he said. “It’s like, empty when teams aren’t playing. This is a get-back-to-normal type thing.”
Back at Glass on Thursday, Hilltoppers senior Nasir Williams congratulated Pearson on his victory. Pearson will make appearances in the 100 and 200 dashes and the long jump. Williams throws shot put and discus, and this is his first outdoor season as a thrower.
All spring sports are limited to 60% of their normal regular-season schedules. For track athletes like Pearson and Williams, that means just six meets before regionals.
“I’m glad that we actually got a meet in today,” Williams said with a smile.