VCC seasons come to an abrupt end
For one local team, the spring sports season came to an end before it began.
For another, the plug was pulled after a promising trip south.
The coronavirus pandemic has wreaked havoc across the country and in the world of sports, with professional leagues shelved and colleges following suit.
Monday, the National Junior College Athletic Association announced it was canceling the 2020 spring seasons - sending the Vermilion Community College baseball and softball teams to the sidelines.
The Ironwomen were set to open their season later this month and had a handful of practices prior to VCC’s spring break - which started in early-March.
The Vermilion baseball team, meanwhile, returned home March 11 from a spring break trip to Florida and were hoping to resume the season in southern Minnesota as soon as next weekend.
Those hopes were dashed not long after, first by a suspension of activities and Monday’s subsequent cancellation.
Instead of practicing at VCC’s gymnasium, Ironmen baseball players were returning to Ely late in the week to retrieve their belongings, turn in gear and ponder what might have been.
“To say it’s unprecedented is more than an understatement,” said Tom Coombe, head baseball coach at VCC. “We’ve never dealt with a situation like this. It’s truly uncharted territory.”
In Florida, the Ironmen picked up one win and had several close defeats, including three by one run, and optimism reigned about the upcoming spring.
“We were really, really looking forward to the rest of the season,” said Coombe. “Our pitchers showed us in Florida that we had a staff that would help us win some conference games and maybe contend for a playoff berth. Now, we’ll never know.”
The abrupt halt was especially hard on four VCC sophomores - Dawson Linkert, Kaleb Beane, Cody Leslie and Brendan Schwichtenberg.
“There are more important things than baseball going on in the nation and the world right now, but that doesn’t diminish the sacrifice these guys, especially our sophomores, have had to make,” said Coombe. “They’ve been preparing since September for this season. A month of fall ball, and weeks in our gym starting in January to get ready for the season. Like college athletes everywhere, they’ve had something taken away from them that they won’t get back.”
The NJCAA looked to soften some of the blow, deciding this week that no athletes will be charged a year of eligibility.
“What it means is all of our freshmen will still be freshmen, eligibility-wise next season,” said Coombe. “And our sophomores can come back and play another season if they like. For some, that may not be an option because of their academic situation, but it’s good to know they’ll at least have that opportunity if they can make it work.”
Vermilion had one local baseball player - Ely freshman Tyler Housey. He started at catcher and also played some games in the outfield for the Ironmen, driving in three runs.
The softball team at VCC was to include former Ely Timberwolf Shawna Butler, who was coming off a solid spring campaign in 2019 and was also a key contributor on the Ironwomen’s volleyball and women’s basketball teams.
The halt also delayed the debut of Vermilion’s new head coach.
Marcus Waugh, who has been an assistant coach in the VCC football program, was set to take over as head softball coach this year.
Vermilion is delivering coursework online, starting March 30 through the end of the school year (see related story),