Finishing early: How COVID-19 affected FAU athletes’ senior season
Tuesday, March 11 seemed to begin as a normal day for the Florida Atlantic University Owls baseball team.
The team was set to face the University of Pennsylvania Quakers in the final game of a three-game homestand, before getting ready to travel to Norfolk, Va. to face their first Conference USA opponent of the season, Old Dominion University, on March 13.
However, as the game between Penn was ten minutes away from the first pitch being thrown, the Quaker’s conference, the Ivy League, announced unanimously to cancel all spring athletic games and practices throughout the current academic year, in the wake of developments seen with COVID-19.
The game between the Quakers and Owls was then canceled in response and the next day FAU and Conference USA announced the suspension of all spring athletics until further notice, leaving seniors and graduate students on the team, like outfielder Charlie Concannon, in disbelief that their baseball careers may be over.
“When [Penn] received the news that their season was canceled, I think it made some of us more emotional because we slowly realized that was going to be us as well,” Concannon said. “Though I think over the past 2 weeks, we’ve seen that this whole situation has become a lot bigger than college sports.”
As Concannon now shifts his focus to graduating from the FAU Master of Business Administration Program and faces the reality of life without baseball, he is not the only FAU student-athlete who is leaving their sport behind.
For senior offensive lineman Brandon Walton, his playing career with the Owls was already over, as the team finished their 2019 season with a Conference USA championship victory in December. However, with the NFL Draft still scheduled to take place from April 23 – 25, Walton was hoping to participate in FAU’s Pro Day on April 2, where NFL team scouts visit the university to watch seniors workout and perform drills with the potential of being signed to a team.
Despite Walton and other players looking forward to the pro day, the event was also canceled because of the coronavirus.
Other cancellations related to football, include FAU’s spring practices that were supposed to start on March 23 and the actual spring game that was supposed to be on April 8.
“It’s tough because spring football is usually where you earn your spot for the season and then you add on the pressure of a new coaching staff to impress,” Walton said. “In my case, it hurts knowing I won’t be able to walk across the stage in a traditional graduation ceremony, but my time at FAU’s has been great.”
While “great” could be considered an understatement for Walton, who was also a part of the Owl’s 2017 C-USA Championship team, he wasn’t the only one on the field to witness both, as cheerleading captain Elizabeth Mitchell cheered from the sidelines throughout all four years at FAU.
Now, Mitchell, also a senior set to graduate after this semester, is “devastated” she will not be able to compete in the National Cheerleaders Association competition that was scheduled to happen on April 5 in Daytona Beach, Fla. This is where college cheer teams from around the United States are supposed to compete against each other in hopes of being labeled as the best cheer team in the country. Once again, however, it was also canceled due to COVID-19 and postponed to April 11, 2021.
“I usually compare NCA Nationals to the Super Bowl of collegiate cheerleading, so it’s hard to have that taken away,” Mitchell said, who’s been cheerleading since she was 4 years old. “The hardest part of it all is that we left practice before spring break saying ‘see everyone in a week,’ but we had no idea that was the last and final time we would run that routine.”
Whether it’s baseball, football, cheerleading or any other sport, the message of not taking anything for granted remains, even during a time where professional athletes aren’t even allowed to play the sport that they get paid to do.
Although the uncertainty of when athletics can resume again continues, it’s important to note for athletes not graduating this semester, or even this year, that they should proceed like normal, getting better at the sport they love one day at a time, as Concannon has already expressed to his fellow teammates.
“You never know when the last play is, so empty the bucket now and be able to walk away without any regrets when it’s finished,” Concannon said. “I’m proud to have been a part of FAU.”