Wins And Losses: How COVID-19 Impacted Sports On The Lower Cape

By: Brad Joyal

Topics: School Sports , Cape Cod Baseball League , Sports

Nauset freshmen Sienna Reeves, left, and Bella Roberts tie their skates before a Cape Cod Furies hockey practice in February at Charles Moore Arena in Orleans. Protective facemasks were required equipment for student-athletes this year. BRAD JOYAL PHOTO

Eventually somebody clever will come up with a name for that week in March 2020. You know the one, that stretch between Sunday, March 8, and Saturday March 14 — the week COVID-19 took hold of our nation and the world.

The week everything changed.

Monomoy Regional High School athletic director Karen Guillemette and Nauset Regional High School athletic director John Mattson remember that week well. They were both preparing for their respective winter sports awards nights when worry about the coronavirus first reached their schools.

“I had just had my coaches meeting for the spring season and we were actually about to go into our winter sports night here on that Thursday but ended up canceling it,” Mattson said. “That was the first major event that we canceled, just because there was so much uncertainty and people were unsure about what to expect. It was that weekend, a few days later, that schools canceled for at least a few weeks and then spring sports were delayed.”

Guillemette remembers going home that Friday, March 13, thinking she’d be back in school to begin a new week a couple days later.

“We went home on Friday saying, ‘All right, we’re coming back into school on Monday,’” she recalls. “And then on Saturday we found out we weren’t coming back to school. But at that time, we were still thinking after a couple weeks we’d be back in school. I kind of thought, ‘Spring sports will start late, but it’ll be fine.’ Little did we know.”

The high school spring season was canceled entirely. Meanwhile, Guillemette, Mattson and the other Cape and Islands League athletic directors sprang into action. They immediately turned their attention to the fall season and began preparing for the 2020-21 slate of action.

In a normal year, the league’s athletic directors meet once a month and skip summers. That wasn’t an option during quarantine, as the AD’s instead opted for weekly meetings that continued throughout the summer.

Those meetings set the groundwork for what some viewed as impossible during the spring: the league has been able to pull off high school athletics — albeit altered in an effort to obey COVID-19 protocols — throughout this school year.

“I’m very proud of our league and all the ADs and all the coaches and our student-athletes,” Mattson said. “Everyone has done such a great job of putting this all together and making it all happen. It takes everyone to pull it off the way we have.”

While high school sports have been able to play on, the Cape Cod Baseball League’s summer season wasn’t as lucky. The CCBL canceled its season April 24, creating a hole in what often serves as the soul of summer on the Cape.

“It was sad,” said Orleans Firebirds President Bob O’Donnell. “You’d run into people, whether at the corner store or wherever, and everybody would say how much they missed baseball and being on the hill. There’s a real passion in Orleans for baseball.”

O’Donnell noted the Firebirds were able to utilize monies that had been saved up over time, but the loss of a Cape League season had real financial impacts for other teams, such as the Chatham Anglers.

“Sponsors don’t sponsor nonevents — that’s where it starts,” Chatham general manager Mike Geylin said. “Without playing baseball, there was nothing to sponsor. Without playing baseball, there were no fans because there were no games, which meant no concessions were sold and no merchandise was sold. That’s a big, big part of how Chatham runs its organization.”

The losses felt weren’t only financial. Geylin acknowledged there was a social component that vanished in the same fashion as the excitement around Veterans Field did.

“Our manager, Tom Holliday, and I would meet most mornings around 10:30 or 11 o’clock,” Geylin said. “We’d spend an hour at a local bagel store having coffee and going over things that happened the day before, things that were coming up — all the things that were concerning the team and the league. That was another big part of my daily life that was gone. There was a bit of an emptiness without the season last year.”

If there’s a reason for optimism, it’s that in celebrating the one-year anniversary of that week, we’ve also moved a year closer to reaching herd immunity and defeating the virus. Another reason to be excited? Cape League teams are hopeful they’ll return to the diamond this summer.

“Right now, there’s more optimism than there was a week ago that we’re going to be playing baseball this summer on Cape Cod,” Geylin said. “You have to prepare to play. Last year, up to the minute that we had to call things off, we were prepared to play. We’ve done the same thing this year — we’re preparing as if we’re going to play.”

Email Brad Joyal at brad@capecodchronicle.com