Senior athletes hoping for a chance

Loudon High School’s Jacob Mallory throws a pitch during a game last season. Mallory will play baseball at Johnson University.

Many high school senior athletes’ seasons have been cut short, leaving a plethora of unanswered questions about the possibility of continuing athletics at the next level.

Loudon High School baseball coach Jason Lambert admits the time has been difficult for the team.

“I’ve been deeply saddened for our senior class,” Lambert said. “They’ve worked so hard and put so much time into this for the past four years and to have their season be drastically different than what they thought it would, it’s been hard. It’s been a difficult pill to swallow for sure, but we’re still optimistic that we’ll be able to get back to school at some point, and the TSSAA, they’re not willing to throw in the towel just yet. We’re hopeful that when we get back at the end of April or maybe in May that we’d still be able to play a little bit more for our guys.”

Seniors are discouraged by the uncertainty.

“It’s just been real tough, you know, not knowing the answers to the rest of the season, not knowing if we’re going to play again or how the rest of the season is going to work out in general,” Jacob Mallory, LHS baseball senior, said. “It’s just real heartbreaking knowing this isn’t how we all grew up imagining how our last year of high school was going to be. All the other years, this isn’t how we imagined it at all. We imagined it to be much, much better than this, and it’s not turning out the way we want it to at all.”

Greenback School head baseball coach Justin Ridenour is also hurting for his senior-heavy team. Many spring athletes rely on their senior year to propel them to the collegiate level.

Greenback senior Kaden Necaise, Tennessee Wesleyan University commit, is the only senior who has signed to play baseball.

“I think it’s been a huge factor, a couple of our guys are going on to play college football, but we’ve got some guys that were very interested in playing college baseball and were kind of relying on their senior year to try and get some exposure, get their name out there and get some video and stats to show other coaches,” Ridenour said. “All of that has kind of been put on the back burner, so yeah, I think it’s been a huge factor for those unsigned seniors.”

Four Redskins have already committed to play collegiate baseball, including Mallory and Bailey Jolley at Johnson University, Cade Smith at Maryville College and Konar Baker at Fayetteville Tech Community College.

“It’s definitely affected a lot of players who haven’t really gotten a lot of playing time through their junior year or below. They’re not being able to get the playing time they need to get the college looks for right now,” Mallory said. “The colleges aren’t really seeing what they got for their senior year, so that’s really affected them. I’ve already committed to college so it’s not affecting me too much. The only thing that it’s really affecting is my signing, which is really tough because I was looking forward to that, it was something I’ve always dreamed of.”

Coaches are still reaching out to players to offer encouragement.

“Obviously, all sporting activities and practice and weight training and everything’s just been canceled, so as a team, we haven’t been able to officially meet or anything like that, but we use a Remind app, so we’re able to stay in contact through the app and through Twitter and stuff like that. I’m able to reach out to a few guys and just tell them, ‘Hey, just keep working and keep doing what you’re doing. Try to get out of the house and throw if you can but be smart’,” Ridenour said.

The Redskins coaching staff has continued to stay in touch and send home workouts to players.

“We talk periodically throughout this break and we just basically try to emphasize to stay positive and to stay healthy and to stay committed to working individually,” Lambert said. “I’ve been able to modify and put together some workout plans for our guys that it doesn’t require any weights or gym to be able to do a lot of body weight exercises, some high intensity interval training, cardio stuff for our guys to try to keep them in shape. Our guys are pretty committed to maintaining their arms and doing arm care exercises, and there’s even some unique ways guys can do some long tossing by themselves through a few unique drills that we’ve modified.”

Lambert hopes to find an opportunity to still hold a special signing day ceremony for his four seniors.

“I want to make sure our guys are getting the sendoff, the recognition that we’ve been able to do for guys in the past that are committed to go play college ball because it is a massive, personal commitment to training, and to have them to get this opportunity, I want them to be able to get the attention they deserve for all the hard work they have put in,” he said. “What we may try to do is some kind of digital signing or virtual signing ceremony maybe over Zoom or something like that. ... That’s a good idea for us that we need to try and get in the works.”