Being a college athlete is a full-time job. Because of the novel coronavirus pandemic, those full-time student-athletes are now unemployed. With the United States on lockdown, all athletes – from youth to professional – are waiting to return to work.
Calaveras County has many former high school athletes continuing their athletic careers at the collegiate level. And just like all other athletes, Ryan Taylor, Madison Wyllie, Kaela Dishion and Alexis Dawe had to pack up their stuff and head home.
Of the four listed athletes, perhaps none was more heartbroken for the spring sports season to come to an end than Taylor, who graduated from Calaveras High School in 2017. Heading into the 2020 season, Taylor knew this would be his final season at Greenville University in Illinois. Although only a junior, Taylor is set to graduate in December and would not play in 2021.
After spending much of his life on a baseball diamond, Taylor was looking to make the most of his final season at Greenville. He knew he would hang up his cleats, he just never anticipated having to do it this way.
“This is always going to stick with me, and it makes me appreciate the time I had even more,” Taylor said. “I knew it was going to come to an end sooner or later, but in a million years I didn’t think it would come to an end like that.”
Taylor played his final game on March 13 in the RussMatt Central Florida Invitational. Taylor’s Panthers had won five of their last six games before the season was shut down. When Taylor got word that the season wouldn’t resume, it was a disappointing ending to his final baseball chapter.
“It was one of the hardest things that I’ve faced,” Taylor said. “I was going out with the seniors and it was my last year and it was definitely not the way any of us wanted it to end.”
Like Taylor, Dawe (Calaveras High School class of 2019) was also in Florida when word came that things were shutting down. Dawe was in the middle of her freshman season as a softball player at Ohio University. When she heard of the severity of the situation, Dawe didn’t wonder about how she’d get back to California, rather, she wondered how she was even going to get out of Florida.
“When everything was first going down, my initial thoughts weren’t about getting back to California, they were about just getting back to Ohio,” said Dawe, who was hitting .253 with 14 runs scored and nine RBIs in 26 games for the Bobcats. “We were halfway through our tournament in Florida when the NCAA canceled everything. I had no idea how we were going to get back to Ohio. There were two or three crazy days where it seemed like the world was ending and everything was going to shut down and we weren’t even sure if we were going to get back to Ohio.”
Dawe was able to return to Ohio, only to pack up her dorm, get on a plane and come home to Calaveras County. As more information regarding the coronavirus became available and how it can be transmitted, Dawe began to think of all the places she had been in a month of playing softball and wondered if she, or any of her teammates, could have at one time been infected.
“Looking back, I was in four or five different states in four or five different weeks, meeting new people and coming into contact with people and it was just the normal thing to do,” Dawe said. “My teammates and I weren’t necessarily worried about it, but we had been talking about how we were more likely to be infected because we were in so many different places.”
Dawe was back home in California only a few days after the NCAA shut down the season. But the same can’t be said for Wyllie (Calaveras High School class of 2018), who was in her sophomore season of playing softball at Corban University, in Salem, Ore. Wyllie and her team continued to practice for two weeks, hoping that should things change, they would be ready to return to action.
“We had team practices, but we had to stay three feet apart at all times,” Wyllie said. “We practiced like everything was normal. We threw in some fun things because everyone was kind of stressed, but we still worked just as hard as we did the weeks before.”
When the season came to an end, Corban was 15-5 and had won its final 11 games. But even before the official word came that there would be no more softball, Wyllie heard all the rumors and rumblings. Knowing that there would be a chance they wouldn’t finish the season, Wyllie tried her best to enjoy each moment on the field with her teammates, while still focusing on the task at hand.
“We were just trying to focus on the next game and just pretend like nothing was happening,” Wyllie said. “We kept focusing on the championship at the end of the season that we were still working really hard to get. But we were also trying to not take anything for granted.”
Like most athletes, Wyllie was upset that there would be no payoff for the months and months of hard work that was put into the season, both on and off the field.
“I was really, really disappointed,” Wyllie said. “As a team, we had been through so much political stuff over the fall and that even continued into the spring. It was so disappointing to know that we went through all of that together for nothing. Why did that have to happen? We put in hours and hours of effort every day for one moment on the field; one moment that’s going to make you great and our season got cut short.”
For now, Wyllie focuses on online classes and working out away from the softball diamond. Instead of feeling sorry for herself, she is working even harder to make sure her body is ready to go when she can return to Corban in the fall.
“We typically only lift for an hour a day and now, I’m lifting for two or three hours,” Wyllie said. “I also run a lot extra than I normally do because I’m not getting that extra softball running in at practice that I normally get. I want to keep my body fresh for when I do come back.”
Unlike Taylor, Dawe and Wyllie, Dishion had just started to get to know her track and field teammates. In late January, Dishion (Bret Harte High School class of 2018) transferred from St. Mary’s College to California State University, Stanislaus. She was only on the team for a short time before the season was canceled.
“I had just started to transition and settle down when all of this happened,” Dishion said. “It was definitely much more of a mental toll than a physical toll. I have been very motivated and have been running for myself, because it’s hard to know that every other weekend, I should be at a meet instead of being at home.”
And unlike Taylor, Dawe and Wyllie, Dishion is a two-sport athlete. She plans on running cross country in the fall, but with no timetable as to when life will return to normal, she’s still unsure whether or not there’s going to be a season, although she’s trying to stay optimistic.
“We are really hoping that we will be able to compete in the fall,” Dishion said. “We are motivated and are looking at this as a five-month training block. We are trying to focus on the silver lining through all this frustration.”
While there is nothing that can be done for the rest of the 2020 spring season, focus has shifted from athletics to academics. For Dawe, she hopes to end her freshman year at Ohio on a positive note.
“I’m trying to finish out this school year and do the best that I can with the online classes,” Dawe said. “Once finals are done this week, I’ll get back into a better routine with softball.”
As for the future, if there’s one thing that this has taught each athlete, it’s to never think there’s always going to be another game. That’s a lesson that Wyllie will keep with her the rest of her college career.
“I don’t want to take any moment on the field for granted,” Wyllie said. “There is so little time left. I’ve been playing for 16 years and I don’t want to lose it because I wasn't grateful for it.”