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Sports

Tully Talk: Young athletes have rug pulled out from under them in wake of coronavirus pandemic

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Youth sports, like ice hockey at the L.A. Kings Pickwick Ice Center in Burbank, have been halted in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.
(Raul Roa/Staff Photographer)

Like many young athletes today, sports were my salvation when I was growing up.

Whether it was playing at the Little League and park and recreation levels, or competing in four sports in high school, or just staging our own Olympics and Wiffle ball games in our backyard, sports played an integral part in my life.

And when I wasn’t playing sports, I was glued to the television watching myriad of sporting events or taking in games at venues around Southern California.

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Unfortunately, all of those activities have been halted for current young athletes in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

And it breaks my heart.

Sports at the youth and high school levels have been suspended, much of individualized instruction has been halted and fields, gyms, pools and tracks are off limits.

To make matters worse, these young athletes can’t take refuge and forget about their dire situation by immersing themselves in college and professional sports coverage because that has all been halted as well.

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It is a sad and disheartening situation and I feel for these young athletes.

I feel sorry for the high school athletes who have seen their spring season suddenly come to a sudden halt. And it is especially sad for the seniors, who have worked their way to their final season and were hoping to make some lasting memories.

For the majority of those seniors, they will never play in college and the 2020 season was their last hurrah in organized sports.

I feel sorry for the young boy who was just learning how to swim and buildings self-confidence, or the young girl who had recently picked up a tennis racket and was just beginning to enjoy a sport she could take part in and enjoy the rest of her life. For now, that joy of accomplishment has been put on hold.

I feel sorry for the elite prep athletes who have been working for years to try and earn a scholarship to continue their careers. They are unable to compete with their travel teams or display their talents in showcases and other events because those events have all been scrapped.

I feel sorry for youth leagues who rely on fundraisers, snack stand revenue and bake sales in an attempt to stay afloat.

I feel sorry for coaches, many of whom have devoted their lives to developing athletes as well helping them grow into upstanding individuals. Some men and women live for coaching, it’s their calling and a joy of their existence. They miss being with their teams as well and this has also been hard on them.

I feel sad for the loss of picture day, all-league awards, All-CIF awards, the senior appreciation game, team dinners, rivalry contests, being able to hang a league championship banner and playing in front of delighted family and friends.

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Those are the things that are cherished for years to come.

However, with all that athletes have to lose in this trying season, there is something that is much more profound that they will be missing.

Burbank High baseball coach Bob Hart expressed to me the one loss that runs deeper than almost all others. It is the loss of the team unit, the camaraderie, love and trust that players experience when they are a part of a unit. It is the joy of being in the trenches together. Teammates rely on each other, learn from each other and build relationships that can last a lifetime.

Having that cut short in this season of COVID-19 is truly a shame.

Sports will return in due time, I have no doubt about that. Youth leagues will resume, private instruction will return and professional and college athletics will get back on track.

But I don’t believe the spring high school season will be able to be salvaged. I just think it would be too tough to come back in a short time and try and organize games and playoff contests. It’s a sad reality.

It is a difficult time and usually at a time like this we turn to sports to help us cope and get through. But now we are on our own.

If this pandemic has proven anything, it is that we need sports in our society because for many of us, sports are part of our DNA, part of our very being. It’s our escape, our salvation and have become a vital part of our lives.

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For all of you athletes, stay strong, stay focused and stay positive. Many of you have faced adversity before and you will get through this. We are all pulling for all of you — no matter what team you play for.

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