In Part III of a multi-part feature series, The Herald-News explores the thoughts and concerns of the 2020 spring sports’ senior student athletes and their coaches during COVID-19

During this unprecedented time in US and world history, many changes have taken place due to the COVID-19 pandemic. One change in particular, includes the sports’ world, as in, there have been no sports, locally, nationally and globally since mid-March, and has affected millions of players and fans.

The Herald-News recently reached out to all Rhea County High School (RCHS) spring sports’ senior student-athletes and their coaches, in an effort to hear their thoughts and get some insight about the status of their 2020 spring sports’ seasons being abruptly halted by the coronavirus pandemic.

This is part three in a multi-part series exploring what the spring sports’ seniors and coaches have been feeling, especially with the possibility of losing their entire season.

On Tuesday, April 7, exactly at 8:20 p.m., which is 20:20 military time, in an effort of solidarity and to honor the class of 2020 spring sports’ senior student-athletes, all of the RCHS spring sports’ coaches turned on the baseball, soccer/track/football and softball stadium lights for 20 minutes. Spring sports’ coaches include Rusty Ray (baseball), Randy Mathis (softball), Steffan Holder (Track&Field), Brian Derlak (anglers), Lil Andrews (girls’ tennis), James Fields (boys’ tennis) and Justin Smith (boys’ soccer).

All of the RCHS spring sports’ coaches essentially had the same message to share to their senior athletes as they turned on the stadium lights. “We all wanted to let our senior players and their teammates know that even though we are not on the field together, we are thinking about you.”

The following testimonial content from senior Track & Field team members and their coach has not been altered.

RCHS Track & Field

From Coach Steffan Holder:

(Excerpts from Facebook posts on April 7)

Obviously, this is not how we wanted our Track & Field season to go! I am still praying we are somehow able to salvage some of our season. Tonight, I want us to remember our athletes who worked so hard in indoor, preseason, February, and into March to get ready for the 2020 season and those continuing to put in work in the hopes they get to perform under the lights!  I am especially thinking of our seniors, Lauren Johnson, Lauren Speciale, Rachel Davenport and Maddie Taylor!  

Here is what I would like to see happen tonight: at 8:20 (in military time that is 2020!) please turn on any outdoor lights such as your porch, deck, patio, etc. to honor our seniors and other athletes as if they were at a meet. Keep the lights on for 20 minutes!  

This way, we are shining a light on their Desire, Dedication, and Determination. Where there is Light there is Hope!

To be out on the track alone without our family was not what I wanted, but at the same time, to honor our seniors on this night was gratifying. Love to all of you but especially to Lauren Johnson, Lauren Speciale, Rachel Davenport and Maddie Taylor!

This really hit home for me! Yes, I miss practices and meets but what I miss most are the athletes, working with them and watching them get better! But mostly, I just miss the interaction we all have! Miss my Track and Field family.

Senior Track & Field, Maddie Taylor

The thought of not being able to run my last year of high school is just heartbreaking. I love this sport more than anything and I’m so glad I’ll be competing at the next level. Thank you to my teammates and coaches for always cheering me on, no matter what.

I just can’t get it out of my head that it’s over. There were so many things left to do, like getting a new PR, going to state one last time, hopefully beating a high school record, and just eating fruit loops Mrs. Coach had prepared for us.

I’m so hurt right now and I pray for my seniors and future runners to never take anytime for granted. Now I know why they say cherish each and every moment like it’s your last. God had other plans!

Senior Track & Field, Lauren Speciale

Speaking for myself, and I’m sure many other seniors, this virus has, in fact, destroyed all our plans and expectations for the final season of our senior year. Not only academically, but athletically too.

I would have never thought my last-first outdoor track meet would be my only track meet of my senior season. I’m so devastated I will never get to see William Ta jump for joy when he finishes his races or watch Rachel fall ever so gracefully over a hurdle or maybe just thin air (sorry rachel..).

Most of all, I’m going to miss Coach Holder’s endless supply of sarcastic remarks and jokes. RCHS track has given me some memories I’ll never forget, and I wish all of the upcoming seniors the absolute best of luck to do what we didn’t get to: run like it’s you’re last. I LOVE YOU ALL!!!

Senior Track & Field, Rachel Davenport

This isn’t funny anymore corona, give me my senior track season back :(

(From the *ADOPTED* senior Facebook post)

Our Rhea County senior, Rachel Davenport, is very proud to be an Eagle and also sad that her senior year is ending earlier than planned.

She’s sad she’s missing out on her last high school track season, prom, signing day, senior night, and awards day. Rachel has been working at subway for almost a year. She is going to continue her future at Bryan College to be a physical therapist.

She will also continue her track career at Bryan as well, she is very excited about being able to further her sport for the next four years.

Senior Track & Field, Lauren Johnson

The last time I put on my uniform, I didn’t know it was going to be the last time. These last seven years as a member of the RCHS Cross Country and Track & Field teams have been a blast.

I’ve made countless memories and friendships that I will never forget.

Sadly, my senior season was cut short, but I’m grateful for the previous meets and events I’ve participated in and the team that became my second family.

I would like to say thank you Coach Holder for believing in me and putting up with me for the past seven years, “An excellent coach is hard to find, difficult to part with, and impossible to forget.”

With Tennessee Governor Bill Lee’s announcement on April 15 of school closure for the remainder of the school year, the TSSAA announced the cancellation of remaining events for the current school year of 2019-20, which includes all spring sports and the postponed state basketball tournaments.

The following excerpt is from the TSSAA, which can also be found on their website at TSSAA.org:

To our senior participants - we thank you for everything you have done for your schools and communities and wish you the very best in your bright futures.

This is difficult, but the lessons you’ve learned and friendships you’ve made through high school activities will last your lifetime.

We look forward to the resumption of high school athletics during the 2020-21 school year, and will continue work on those events at this time.

The TSSAA thanks everyone involved for their patience and understanding throughout this process.

Information will be given to member schools regarding summer athletic activities in regards to the sports calendar at a date in the near future.

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