Eager to wow prospective college programs, Ira Graham planned for this track and field season to be, in his words, “my redemption year.”
Although the Eastmoor Academy senior is two-time defending City League champion in the 110-meter high hurdles, his performances in 2019 were a shade below scholarship standards for Division I programs. A nagging hamstring injury was partly to blame.
Graham’s future in the sport he loves was riding on a spring season that likely won’t happen because of the coronavirus pandemic. The Ohio High School Athletic Association has left the window cracked for a possible late-season return, but for that to happen Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine would have to re-open schools next month. Many administrators are skeptical about that happening.
“I feel like I’ve lost everything I worked for the past three years,” Graham said. “I realize I’m not alone in this. Sports are important for a lot of people … and for a lot of different reasons.”
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Graham carries a 3.6 grade-point average and has been accepted at a handful of colleges. He plans to study graphic design, with an emphasis on visual arts. But without scholarship money from track, Graham’s options would be limited to either trying out as a walk-on or simply hanging up his spikes for good.
“Athletes in track — and in all sports for that matter — need opportunities to be noticed,” Eastmoor coach Jason Lewis said. “The Columbus City Schools won’t let us run indoor track, so these kids haven’t competed since last May or early June. College recruiters don’t have anything to go by but times.”
Baseball and softball players face a similar situation, although some at least had summer leagues to bolster their resumes.
“It isn’t even necessarily about getting scholarships,” Grove City baseball coach Ryan Alexander said. “We have probably four or five guys who are on the fence in terms of trying to play at the next level. Two of them basically missed their junior seasons with injuries. This was the year that swayed them one way or another, in some cases whether they go to college or not.”
Alexander said he shot video of early March practices to give college coaches something to look at.
Hilliard Bradley was quietly anticipating a championship softball season in which a handful of talented players would be showcased.
“Now, they don’t have an opportunity to have a great year,” coach Kevin Moody said. “Summer ball is extremely important in our sport because that’s when the players get exposed in camps and tournaments and (college) coaches make contacts. For the younger kids, even that process might be comprised if we don’t get back to playing.”
But, for now, Moody is most concerned about his uncommitted seniors.
One of those is senior third baseman/first baseman McKenzi Schultz-Apps, who Moody said “is certainly worthy of a scholarship.”
The lost season prompted Schultz-Apps to accept a preferred walk-on opportunity with Youngstown State a few weeks ago.
“High school is all about your senior year,” Schultz-Apps said. “First and foremost, that’s what makes this so devastating. We thought we had the potential for a great team this year.
“As far as planning for college, the way I look at it is, a scholarship is a scholarship regardless of how much money they’re giving you. If I thought someone was going to come forward and help pay my way, I would have waited it out. With us not playing, though, it didn’t make much sense. I had a good vibe with Youngstown State. Hopefully, I can prove myself there and get some of my school paid for later on.”
The temporary shutdown of sports also could prove costly to athletes in other sports.
Spring and summer are prime seasons for boys and girls basketball. College coaches typically flock to AAU tournaments, shootouts and camps to evaluate prospects.
“It’s a very critical time for juniors in their recruitment,” Pickerington North boys coach Jason Bates said. “The AAU season already has lost a few huge weekends. June is a big month of team activities for high school coaches. If we lose that time (10 days) with our players, it will hurt. How fresh are these kids going to be when they can’t get into facilities to work out?”
Football also in a down-season, so to speak, but a lot of inroads by college recruiters are made during April and May. Those programs also are stalled for the time being.
“They usually come around here and watch a kid do a workout or catch a track meet,” Dublin Coffman coach Mark Crabtree said. “If they like a kid, they usually tell him that they’ll see him at their camp or a combine in the summer. That’s where a lot of the offers are made. We don’t even know at this point whether those events will happen. It’s a very uncertain time.”
Crabtree boasts a three-star prospect in running back/defensive back Bryon Threats, who late last week committed to Purdue.
“Being shut down has impacted me a little bit,” Threats said before his commitment. “I’d like to be out visiting campuses right now, but they’re closed. I’m mostly keeping in contact with coaches by Twitter (direct messages) or texts. There’s really not a whole lot we can do except work out and stay sharp.”