Falls Church School Athletes Grapple With a Season Lost

By Natalie Heavren

THE ONLY SPORT George Mason High School’s Caleb Parnell played was baseball, so he’ll miss out on one last chance to be with the team. He also feels the lost season puts this year’s juniors at a disadvantage since they won’t get the necessary varsity experience to lead come 2021. (Photo: Carol Sly)

On March 23, the Virginia High School League made official what all the state’s high school athletes had feared since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic: their remaining sports seasons would be lost.

George Mason High School boy’s lacrosse seniors Tucker Gaskins and Henry Wildman found out about the cancelation of the spring sports season when a screenshot of the VHSL tweet was sent over a group chat.

Wildman originally thought it was fake and that his friends were trying to prank him, even though his phone was getting notification after notification.

Then his dad walked in and confirmed it: The spring sports season wasn’t going to happen. His heart immediately sank.

“It still hasn’t hit me that we won’t get to put on display what we have been working tirelessly for over the course of our entire high school careers,” Wildman said of the lost season. Gaskins added separately, “It always just floated over my head until this happened…Thinking about the last game of my junior season and realizing that it might’ve been the last game I’ll ever play, and I didn’t even know it at the time really stings.”

While the athletes will, of course, miss playing on the field, many will miss the experiences and bonding time with their friends and teammates off the field.

That’s what George Marshall High School senior baseball player Andrew Margiotta is going to miss most this season: the people.

“I had some of my best friends on the team and I won’t get another chance to play with them again,” he said.

Caleb Parnell’s only sport at Mason was baseball and the cancellation of the spring sports season means he won’t get a senior night or the camaraderie that comes with playing a sport.

“I spent a lot of time with these guys over the past few years whether it was during the spring season or summer league season so it’s sad to have to say goodbye to them without one last run,” he said.

Marshall lacrosse player Lena Smith had not planned on playing lacrosse in college, but losing her final high school season has made her want to pursue club lacrosse if it’s available at the college she picks.

She believes she’s missed out on the closure that comes from a senior season.

“I lost the chance to share tons of good memories with my teammates and coaches while working hard at the activity I feel passionate for,” Smith said. “In general, I feel like I didn’t really get a proper goodbye and that hurts the most.”

Her teammates, Annie Leap and Olivia Slivinski, are right there with Smith. Leap feels that she not only lost part of her senior year but also a small part of her family due to the teams’ closeness. Slivinski echoed that, but also believes the team lost an opportunity to show people how much they’ve been able to improve.

Coaches and administrators are feeling the students’ pain.

Frank Spinello, Mason’s head boy’s soccer coach, said, “I hate to see the season lost, especially for our seniors … This team had the potential to be one of our most legendary teams and I hate that they lost the opportunity to prove it on the field.”

Joe Swarm, Marshall’s director of student activities, sympathized with the students who won’t get to take part in “the traditional end of the year senior activities that those before them have enjoyed.”

Social media shoutouts have become a regular thing for Justice and Falls Church High Schools during this time.

F.C. AREA SCHOOLS have been recognizing senior athletes on Twitter after school closures shut down the spring sports season. (Photo: Twitter/@justicehswolves, @FCjagsathletics, @GCMsports1, @gmhssports)

For Justice, weekly tweets about the graduating seniors in each sport are posted, highlighting their future plans, favorite memory at Justice and their own special shoutout. So far, the school’s crew, baseball and softball as well as track & field seniors have all been recognized. Coaches from various sports have also sent in personalized videos to “check in” on the students.

Falls Church High has followed Justice by starting their own dedicated posts to seniors. While Justice’s functions as a short slideshow, Falls Church does individual picture posts and gives the coaches a chance to lend some words to their student athletes. The recognition began Tuesday with the girls soccer team.

While much has been lost, the athletes still maintain a positive attitude through their coping.

For now, Mason boys soccer player Cole Hellert is trying to focus on being grateful for what he was able to accomplish since it helped give him the chance to play at Siena College. He will have to wait another four years for his first senior night, but he will enjoy every moment he can, not knowing if his next game is his last.

“I’m just disappointed. But I also am glad that I’ve had the experiences and everything that has happened in the past like I’m grateful for that. I think that’s kind of one of my main takeaways from this whole situation,” Hellert said.

The Marshall softball team has been working to give back to younger players, even when they cannot get on the field themselves.

Head coach Tom Kyllo noted that losing the season in these circumstances has been difficult for his players, particularly the seniors, but the team is keeping active.

Part of this includes having the players record themselves doing hitting drills at home so that the team can send them to the Vienna Girls Softball League to be posted on its website.

“We hope that the younger house league players will get excited about continuing with their skills training from home and learn from our players. It’s a nice way to stay connected.”

Mason’s Gaskins is using his newfound free time to work on his golf skills, looking at the possibility of playing on his college’s club team. He’s continuing to work out with the hope of an abbreviated summer lacrosse season in the back of his head.

Parnell has taken this time without baseball to reflect on his baseball career and he realized how quickly it went by. He began playing at the age of four and feels as though his career is unfinished without the senior season he’s been working towards the last 14 years.

Selflessly, Parnell added, “However, I’m more concerned with what our program as a whole will lose. The entire roster for next year will lose out on a year of varsity experience, which could hurt the development of our players.”