Game Over: Senior Student Athletes React to Coronavirus Cancellations

By Noah Syverson, Viking Fusion Executive Director

Genesis Leggett was one day away from competing in the NCAA Indoor Track and Field Championships.

Makenzie Flynt was in the middle of the best season of her career, hitting .396 with 15 RBI for a nationally ranked Berry softball team.

Dylan Schoknecht was a key bullpen piece on a Berry baseball team with championship aspirations.

Miranda Smith had 19 goals and 12 assists for a Berry women’s lacrosse team that had three seniors.

Four athletes. Four sports. Four collegiate careers coming to an abrupt close.

Describe how you first found out that the season had effectively been canceled.

Photo courtesy of Berry Athletics

Genesis Leggett, Track and Field:

I found out the day before the Indoor Track & Field National Championships that the season was over. I saw the NCAA’s statement about canceling all championships for the rest of the year on Twitter, and then about 5 minutes later I got a call from my coach confirming it. I knew that a couple of schools were pulling their athletes from the championship, but I figured since the first day of competition was literally the next day and since everyone that would be competing was already at the facility, that the meet would still go on as planned. 

Photo courtesy of Berry Athletics

Makenzie Flynt, Softball: 

We were traveling in Tucson, Arizona when we started to hear about all the coronavirus cases coming up. Our coaches told us to focus on our season and just to focus game by game. When we were flying home for me was when it really set in that this could be a serious problem to our season. Once we arrived home and saw conferences were getting canceled, teams were canceling games and even teams in our conference were canceling is when it really set it. Our coaches still told us to take it day by day because we really do not know when it could be our last day. Once we finished our games against Covenant College and we were told Senior Day was going to be tomorrow is when I realized that tomorrow is going to be it for this team. Since everything for us was day by day, it was easier to slowly realize what was actually happening outside of us. 

Photo courtesy of Dylan Schoknecht

Dylan Schoknecht, Baseball:

There wasn’t any one definitive moment that we found out our season was cut, but on the way to Millsaps, we had the idea that Rhodes, Oglethorpe, and Millsaps were getting ready to cancel their season. The more we checked our schedule or Twitter, the more you notice our games against BSC, Hendrix, and Sewanee started to say canceled alongside them. So, when we showed up to the field Friday afternoon, we all kind of had that first “wow, this might be my last practice” realization. Shortly after that practice, we get back to the hotel and were all watching SportsCenter where they broke that the NCAA was canning the March Madness tournament, that was the next moment of realizing it’s inevitable from there we would be soon after.

Miranda Smith, Women’s Lacrosse:

Photo courtesy of Berry Athletics

Before my team was set to play Carthage University, my coach mentioned that some other schools had been canceling their seasons completely and that we need to go out in these next few games like they’re going to be our last. Up to that point, we had only heard our Rhodes game was canceled, so we were looking forward to the four games after spring break. Then within 48 hours of that game, three of those four games were canceled and we were looking at our Sewanee senior game as our last contest. Their coach explained that the school was on spring break and their institution hadn’t made any decisions yet about what their next steps were, so we tried to be hopeful. With the SAA’s announcement to cancel conference competition starting March 20th, we knew Hendrix was our last game ever. It was a lot of news and emotions the entire week as updates kept pouring in.

What have your emotions been like over the past few days as you have come to terms with that news?

Leggett: Last weekend was probably the longest weekend of my life. It seemed like we were getting new information about things getting canceled every 30 minutes. My emotions have been all over the place to be honest. I was devastated when I first found out that my last chance to compete at the indoor national championship had been taken away so quickly. I was so caught up in not being able to compete the next day that the fact that my entire season was over didn’t really hit me until that Friday afternoon at the impromptu senior day that was held for the senior softball players and I. As an athlete, and especially as a senior, I had set so many goals for myself and at first it felt like I failed. Even though I knew I had no control over the situation. I had suspected that the outdoor season would be affected in some way because other schools were canceling their athletics, but I was still (and am still) hoping that this can get under control in time so that every senior can have a proper last competition or send off. I understand that all of this is for public safety and I would hate for anyone to get sick because they wanted to compete, but honestly that does not make it hurt any less. One special aspect about being an athlete is our resilience and ability to face tough situations and work through them. However, in this situation you can’t help but feel helpless. We have no control over the outcome. Every fiber in me is wanting to figure out how I can make the best out of this situation and sitting it out just feels strange.

“For me, it wasn’t about the records, the stats or anything like that but my relationship with Team 11. This Team was going to be the best team Berry had seen in awhile and that is what makes me so upset that we couldn’t show who we really were.” –Makenzie Flynt

Flynt: My emotions have honestly been all over the place. It has not truly hit me yet that my softball career is over yet alone my career at Berry. I honestly am at a loss of words as to how I feel about this situation. I understand the importance of keeping everyone safe and healthy but for my team, season and memories; I really just can’t see the good at the end of this tunnel. For me, it wasn’t about the records, the stats or anything like that but my relationship with Team 11. This Team was going to be the best team Berry had seen in awhile and that is what makes me so upset that we couldn’t show who we really were. I think as the weeks go on, it will really hit me that my career is over but I can only be thankful for the opportunity to play. 

Schoknecht: I’m the kind of person that has to always try and make light of crappy situations. I’ve cracked subtle jokes saying that my athleticism has been taken away from me (prime example would be shooting a Coke can into the recycle bin, and missing by A LOT). It really hasn’t been easy, you try and find ways to distract yourself elsewise but truthfully, it isn’t going to hit hard until we get back on campus (hopefully soon) and you’re sitting around the dorm from 3-7pm.

Smith: My emotions have been all over the place this entire week. It’s a lot to take in that the sport you’ve played for the last decade is coming to an end sooner than you thought. Taking in the news and having to accept the inevitable uncertainty of this entire situation, I was confused about everything happening, I was angry and sad and very fearful for what the rest of my senior year and senior season was going to look like. The reaction came with very tearful days as the seniors and I had to accept the news as each update came in.

How long have you been playing your respective sport?

Leggett: Seven years. I started throwing my sophomore year of high school and fell in love with it. 

Flynt: I started playing softball when I was 4 years old.  

Schoknecht: I’ve been playing organized baseball since I was 5, but, have pictures of me dressed as my favorite Cubs player even earlier than that hitting off the tee in our front yard as a kid. 

Smith: I have been playing lacrosse for 11 years as of this year.

What have sports taught you about life?

Leggett: Sports have taught me the importance of hard work and resilience. I have fought injuries, self-esteem issues, a hectic work/class schedule almost every semester, along with many other ‘obstacles’ that would have made any other person want to quit a long time ago. I learned how to set goals for myself and the beauty of putting in the work every single day to reach those goals. Sports have taught me that in times of adversity, one must use the power inside of them to transform their environment. As an athlete, I have been in many situations where I had to push through external and internal factors to be at my best in order to compete. The environments we find ourselves in can change, weaken, or harden us, and test who we truly are. The way a person responds and their ability to persevere through those tough situations is just a testament to their strength and resilience. 

Flynt: Softball has taught me so much. I never knew that the lessons I learned in softball were going to help me in so many different ways. I learned how to take responsibility for my actions whether they were intentional or unintentional. You have 15 other girls you play with and your actions speak a lot to those girls if you are a senior or even a freshman. I learned how to communicate. If anyone knows Berry Softball you know we talk about communication on a daily basis. Communication is not only important when it comes to your work on the field but also your work in the classroom. When you are an athlete you have to be able to communicate with your professors about missing games, how you are struggling, etc.  

I also learned passion. Team 11 showed so much passion and if you watched a single inning of one of our games this year, you would see how much passion we played with. I can go on and on about the lessons I have learned but softball but I think the most important one I learned is family. This team was a family from the very beginning. We took those freshman and one transfer junior in like our own and formed relationships with them that took time but were so worth it in the end. Family does not always have to be blood related but with a group of girls that will always have your back in any situation, pick you up in a time of need and to always make sure you are having fun, that is family to me. 

Schoknecht: Shoot, that’s hard to put into limited words. Sports have always been a large part of my life through the highs and lows. We moved to Georgia from Chicago my sophomore year of high school. Being able to follow along with our beloved Cubs, Blackhawks, and Bears allowed me to keep in such close contact with our family. As far as what it’s taught me about life, I have to say that we’re all bound to go through trials and tribulations without much warning. Sports not only provided a distraction for any of those transpiring off the field, but gave you the preparation for dealing with them from experiences on the field. 

“I think sports opened up so many opportunities and gave me a new sense of confidence, composure, and respect that I will carry with me as my sports career ends.” –Miranda Smith

Smith: The numerous sports I have played throughout the years as I grew up have impacted me in ways my 12 year old self couldn’t even imagine. I’ve always been the quiet kid who never had much to say or didn’t want to say anything at all, because of how shy and introverted I used to be. I didn’t have many friends and never opened up as making friends wasn’t also my specialty. Sports gave me an outlet to do so, to open up and be who I am on the field. I didn’t know myself completely, the qualities and personality that others saw in me was hard for me to understand. My teammates voted for me to be one of the team captains  2 years in a row and as the senior captain this season, and I never understood why to begin with. I finally got to see myself the way others saw me and I think sports opened up so many opportunities and gave me a new sense of confidence, composure, and respect that I will carry with me as my sports career ends. 

What will you remember most about your time with your team?

Leggett: Winning was fun, but I don’t think I ever went to a practice were I didn’t laugh at something or someone at least once. I’ll always remember all the relationships,  inside jokes, and parody songs I created with my fellow throwers. All of my teammates are family to me. It wasn’t easy at all, but I am grateful to have had the opportunity to compete alongside all of them. 

Flynt: The thing I will remember most about Team 11 was the energy! We had so much energy whether it was the very beginning of a game or honestly during practice. This team was going to be a great one and I hate that no one was able to see that but we all knew how far we were going to go and make it. I formed amazing relationships with the girls on this team and I knew no matter happened we were always going to be there for one another. This team was always the underdog but we some how always came out on top even during the most hard fought battles of the season. We had so much thrown our way this year starting with the Fall. No one could have guessed that this was what our season was going to look like but without Coach Stanley and Coach T, our team wouldn’t be who they are. I think everyone on Team 11 can say that our coaches really pushed us in ways we didn’t think were possible but made us who we are. So, I want to thank them for that because I will remember for a long time how much care and love they poured into this team everyday 

Schoknecht: We had an incredibly special group this year. It’s easy to say that about every team you’re part of, but the quality of baseball we put together the last few weekends was truly incredible. It was baseball being played in its purest form. Ben Coker pitched as good as anyone in the country time in and time out, the SAA had to give someone at Hendrix player of the week to just have some differentiation. Garrett West threw a no-hitter and that was something none of us will ever forget. But you can’t commend the freshman class enough. Guys like Will Macolino, Mason Carnes, and John D’Amelio made such a big impact on the field and were a large part of the success we had. It’s hard to find that at any other program. That’s not even to mention the rest of the freshman class that were eager to just find some way they could help us win a ball game (example: dugout roles, there’s so much going on in game that calls for the help of many and our freshman weren’t timid to ask questions and make sure they were doing their job right). Everybody top to bottom was bought in, and our brand of baseball showed as a result. 

Smith: The memories I’ll remember won’t be the wins and losses from the last 4 years, because they don’t reflect the memories made on and off the field. The hard work and the fun times aren’t always reflected by the scores, but becoming a family and sisters on and off the field, made this entire process harder as it brought us closer than ever, and I wouldn’t have wanted to spend my last season with anyone else.

A few of you were able to participate in games or contests after you knew that those would be the last of the season. A few of you were honored at a “Senior Day” ceremony. What sort of closure were you able to get from that? If you weren’t able to have something similar, what sort of closure do you have?

Leggett: I was able to get a Senior Day ceremony at the last softball game when I got back from North Carolina. I felt a bit weird not having my parents there or my fellow senior teammates, but honestly there is nothing normal about the entire situation. I wouldn’t say that gave me closure per say. Everything happened so quickly that it’s hard to say or figure out what exactly I need for closure. Coming from that mental high from getting prepared to compete at the national stage to being forced to move out of my dorm two days later is something I’m still dealing with. I think the worst part is not being able to have my teammates or friends around to go through this process together. 

Flynt: The ability to have “Senior Day” at home was something I will be grateful for. Even though the situation itself was extremely upsetting, it was a relief to know that my season was ending where it all started. I was able to play one last game on the field that helped shape me into who I am as well as with my loved ones. It was amazing to see all the families and support that came out to give Madison and I so much love on that day. I wouldn’t say I really got any closure from this but just another opportunity to be with my teammates, coaches and family on a day you dream of your entire life.  

Schoknecht: Allowed for me to thank our coaching staff, and teammates. But most importantly, I got to thank my folks with a tip of the cap. 

Smith: Hendrix College was kind enough to honor our seniors as the matchup would be the last for both institutions. The thought was incredibly nice and the seniors thought that it would be a quick mention and that it wouldn’t be a big deal. However, their team made these amazing posters that probably took a lot of time and we got walked out  by our teammates and we got announced like we would if we had been at Berry. They made the last time I’ll put on a Berry jersey so worthwhile and it made the experience heartfelt and bittersweet. I don’t think anyone else in our conference would have given the same kindness that they gave to us and I respect them more than ever. After the game, all the seniors from each respective team got a picture, and Meg, Nikki, and I are crying so hard we couldn’t breathe that Hendrix’s coach and seniors hugged us and we all felt as one in that moment that we were done and it was a hard and emotional moment that I’ll carry with me throughout this process.

I know that at least lacrosse and baseball played their last games on the road. What was that like?

Schoknecht: I would have loved to have gotten to play one final time at William R. Bowdoin, but in a situation like this, you can’t be too picky. 

Smith: It was really hard to grasp at first, to know that we would never again play on Valhalla and that the last game there against Birmingham-Southern was our last and we took that for granted. If I had known that would’ve been my last game, I would have gone about it so differently, but that’s how life works as change happens all the time. I wish more than anything to put the home uniform on again and be honored on the field I stepped on as a clueless naive freshman, to just relive the moments made on that turf. 

What are your thoughts on possibly taking advantage of an extra year of eligibility to return to play your sport?

Leggett: My situation is still up in the air on this. I accepted a Graduate Assistant position at Berry, so I’ll be getting paid to work and my tuition will be covered. Unfortunately, as it stands, I would not be able to compete and get paid for the work I’ll be doing. Obviously, no senior expects to have their season cut like this, but if there is a way I could compete I definitely will.

Flynt: For me personally, I think it was the right thing to do for spring sport athletes. It is just hard for seniors to be able to take this opportunity if a job has already been lined up for them at the end. I personally will not be taking the extra year of eligibility because I had already accepted a job at an elementary school in Rome. It is really hard to make that type of discussion when you make all these plans for after graduation not thinking that this would be how your last year came to an end.

Schoknecht: I would absolutely love to. However, I just got accepted into graduate school at Northwestern, and is an opportunity I can’t really pass up. This program and school has done more for me than one can imagine in a two year period, I would love that final year to enjoy it for another two semesters, but am incredibly content the way I went out and excited for the next chapter.

Smith: As much as I would love to come back and play one more time, I think my body appreciates the end more than ever.  The complications I have with my compartment syndrome, my knee surgery that is acting up again, and many other numerous ailments, I am certain that my time is up. I would come back in open arms however, if the extra year included paid tuition, but since it doesn’t, then my future is for another path.

Any other thoughts on this situation?

Leggett: I’ve never missed the Berry bubble this much before. I just want to send a shout out to all of my fellow seniors. There is so much uncertainty about our seasons, the rest of our academic semesters, graduation, the future job market, etc. It hurts to have to think about all of the real world issues we are facing because of the pandemic when everything is moving so quickly. I know we wish the season could have ended on our own terms, but we have spent years training and preserving through obstacles to reach this point in our lives. We will get through this obstacle as well and we will be stronger because of it. Stay safe, enjoy your families, and take the proper precautions! 💙#HookEm

Flynt: I think it is hard to really understand the decisions that the NCAA and SAA made but I truly wish the season was postponed a couple of weeks instead of canceling everything at once. I believe all spring athletes would take another month out of their summer to play and continue on.

Schoknecht: I can’t say thank you enough to Berry and Coach Beasley for giving us that final weekend of play. I was able to soak it all in from the second I stepped on the mound for my last time. Which ultimately gave me closure with the whole situation. I looked around the field, looked at the pun I have written under my bill (gives me a quick laugh if I find myself stressed on the mound, no judging…), and enjoyed every last second of doing what I loved most.

Smith: have to understand why decisions are being made like this all over the world and it’s a hard thing to do, since it heavily affects many senior collegiate spring sport athletes and seniors in general. The looming uncertainty is the most miserable feeling about this entire situation and the more shocking updates that come my way, makes being hopeful for the rest of my senior year difficult. 

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