Girls basketball receives bad news

The Rawlins High School girls basketball team poses for the camera on Thursday right before leaving for the 3A state basketball tournament in Casper. While en route, the team was informed that the tourney was canceled due to coronavirus concerns.

RAWLINS – In the past two weeks, Rawlins and surrounding communities have seen and felt the impact of a global pandemic. The coronavirus (COVID-19) has taken its toll in Carbon County, resulting in bare shelves at local grocery stores, a shortage of paper and cleaning products and, most recently, the closure of public schools.

In addition to the groups most at risk to complications from COVID-19 (older adults and individuals with respiratory disease), an additional group of individuals has fallen victim to the repercussions of the pandemic: local athletes.

In the grand scheme, shuttered participation in school and club sports takes a backseat to the threat of a widespread virus that can be deadly to certain members of the population. But, in a city like Rawlins, local sports are the heartbeat of the community and the cessation of all things athletics is certainly troublesome.

The Rawlins High School boys and girls basketball teams saw an abrupt end to seasons that were on the cusp of being historic. Players and fans, coaches and families are left without any kind of closure and can only wonder what could have been.

The Outlaws girls basketball team had earned a spot in the state championship bracket after rallying to a second place finish at regionals the week before. The boys team was on the path to redemption after not qualifying for state last year and winning the regional championship this year.

Rawlins High School head girls basketball coach Katie Cline was among the many in Rawlins left stunned by the news the WHSAA State Basketball Championships were canceled. Cline was also tasked with the unenviable job of informing her players their season was over despite being en route to the championships last Thursday, March 12.

The school bus was pulled to the side of the road in Bairoil, where Cline had cell phone service and where she was informed the Outlaws would not be making the rest of the journey to the Casper Events Center.

Cline believes the decision to cancel the event was the right one, but admits it hasn’t been easy to come to terms with.

“The decision was a hard one to accept,” said Cline. “I had a sick feeling in my stomach when we got the confirmation the state championships had been canceled. You just care so much about your kids and not being able to showcase them is a tough thing to deal with. We know in the grand scheme it was the right thing, though.”

For Cline and her Outlaws basketball team, their season was on the upswing after they finished in second place at regionals, a spot they were not expected to even come close to this season.

“This season was so incredibly tough,” said Cline. “We were thrilled with how we played our regional games in Newcastle and were looking forward to keeping the momentum going into state.”

The canceled championships, as Cline pointed out, were especially disappointing for her lone senior, Jordan Jerome, whose high school basketball career is now over and without much closure.

Telling her only senior she wouldn’t be playing in the championship tournament was the toughest part for Cline.

“Jordan just came on really strong this season,” said Cline. “She stepped up as a great leader and I just wanted to show people where she was at and where our team was at. Jordan is a tough kid, though, and I think she handled it really well. I think for the most part, all the kids handled it well.”

Jerome, who will play volleyball in college next fall, is dealing with shock and disappointment, as she had hoped to end her basketball career more on her terms.

“It was an eye opener more than anything,” said Jerome. “Just knowing that you really have to play every game like it’s your last. It’s hard to believe that it actually happened,” she said of the canceled championships.

Jerome has a champion’s mentality, though, and is using her downtime to stay in shape and prepare, she hopes, for the upcoming soccer season.

“I’m doing some workouts, core workouts, planning on playing some volleyball with my sister and doing some outdoor stuff,” said Jerome. “I reached out to my coach at McCook and she sent along some ideas for workouts so I’ve been doing those.”

Jerome is taking the next few weeks one day at a time and trying to be patient as the remainder of her senior year ticks by.

For the Rawlins High School boys basketball team, the disappointment and shock is shared. Head coach Denver Allard was on his way to Casper on Thursday to catch the earliest games in the tournament. He said he was already in “game day mode” and, despite what he was seeing on the news, held the belief that there was no way the state championships would be canceled.

Before the event was entirely canceled, coaches and teams were informed it would go on, without fans and with essential staff only. Shortly after that update, though, Allard received the news the state championships would in fact be entirely canceled.

“The first thing I thought about was the kids,” said Allard. “They put a lot of time into it, especially in the summer and it hit me that was it for the seniors.”

For someone like Allard, who admits he thinks about the sport of basketball every, single day, it is frustrating to see the season end like it did. The Outlaws boys basketball team, after failing to qualify for the state tournament in 2019, was on track for redemption after winning the 2020 East Regional tournament. Even though the team didn’t get a chance to play the best teams from the west region, Allard finds a bit of closure in the fact that his team ended the season with a big win.

“My kids have something to hold their heads high about,” said Allard. “We’re one of the few teams in the state who won that last game. Sure, we wanted to get on that stage and play against the best in the state, but our kids should be very proud of the season they had. Hopefully one day they will be able to look back and truly be ok with how the season ended. We really were playing our best basketball and that’s special.”

Unfortunately for Allard, the cancelation of the tournament came at a time when he was separated from his team. He was already in Casper and the team intended to come at a later time. With the cancellation of the tournament and then the schools closing shortly after, Allard still hasn’t had a chance to see his team or any of his players.

“My biggest thing right now is that I haven’t even been able to talk to my players,” he said. “I haven’t seen my players and I haven’t had a chance to sit down and talk to them and tell them how sorry I am. As a coach and a teacher it has to be a learning opportunity and I hope years from now they will look back and realize that hopefully we did the right thing.”

Despite his passion for the game and sense of loss and disappointment the 2019-2020 season ended on, Allard does believe the right course of action was taken.

While the Rawlins High School basketball programs were on the receiving end of arguably the biggest heartbreak in the local sports community, all local sports are feeling the ramifications of COVID-19.

Rawlins High School junior Sydney Thorvaldson, following a dominating victory at the state indoor track meet, was set to travel to New York City to compete in the Indoor National Championships. At one point this season, she boasted the second fastest time in the country and was in a good position to make a national title run. That opportunity was shut down when the event was canceled late last week.

Local club programs have also shuttered in the wake of COVID-19. Allard was unsure what would happen with the traveling and summer programs that have helped bolster his high school program for years. AAU volleyball, which had started and nearly completed with registration, announced via Facebook that the season has been canceled and is working on administering refunds.

Rawlins Wrestling Club, which launched its 2020 season in January was about a month away from the USA Wrestling state tournament, the final event of the season, when cancellations began, leaving the remainder of the season in question. Rawlins Little League baseball has been instructed not to start any activities until at least May 11.

Finally, WHSAA spring sports and activities are stuck in a game of wait-and-see. Per the WHSAA website, no spring sports are to start until April 6 at the earliest. Wyoming high schools are reminded that no team or school is permitted to hold practices of any kind for spring sports in the interim.

While some clubs, teams and organizations are holding out hope for rescheduled events or for practices to resume, there is little hope that will happen sooner rather than later. As is the nature of a global pandemic, the best our community can do is follow the recommended directives of local, state and national entities and do our parts to help slow down the spread of the virus.

Sports and, unfortunately, the countless hours, days and years sacrificed in preparation for competition has and will continue to take a backseat and is yet another victim that can be claimed as a result of COVID-19.

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