By ARIEL STAHLER
Gazette & News sports writer
Evan Hershberger was scrolling through Twitter when he saw the news that would change his college athletic career. The junior high jumper at the University of Mount Union knew sporting events were being canceled due to concerns about the spread of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), but he and his friends did not think they would cancel the 2020 track and field season. Hershberger first saw a tweet about another college that canceled its classes through the end of the semester and he sent that tweet to his friends.
“Not even five seconds later, another one of my buddies that I sent that to said that the OAC (Ohio Athletic Conference) has canceled all sporting events until the end of the semester,” he said.
After he learned of the cancellation of the season, the 2017 Dalton High School graduate took to Twitter himself to express his feelings on losing his junior season. “My heart is broken…wish it didn’t have to comes (sic) to this…be thankful for what you have when you have it because it can be taken away in an instant,” he wrote in a tweet posted March 12.
“When we saw they canceled everything, I’m not going to lie, I was pretty devastated,” said Hershberger. “In the back of my mind, it was an idea because we had talked about it, but I never thought that they would actually go through with it. We are all pretty upset.”
The OAC is one of many conferences and leagues, from high school to professional, to cancel, suspend or postpone seasons due to COVID-19 concerns. CBS Sports listed some of the changes that were made after public officials suggested the cancellation of events that include large groups of people. The list included the NCAA’s cancellation of the 2020 Division I men’s and women’s basketball tournaments and the cancellation of the spring sports seasons, the NBA suspended the 2019-2020 season March 11 with plans to reevaluate the situation in 30 days and Major League Baseball canceled the remainder of spring training and postponed Opening Day. On the high school level, OHSAA (Ohio High School Athletic Association) has postponed the boys and girls basketball tournaments, wrestling tournament and the state ice hockey tournament. The high school spring sports season has been pushed back to a tentative start date of April 11.
Away from sports, many colleges and universities, including Mount Union, Kent State, Stark State, Akron, and Ohio State, have suspended in-person classes and will have classes exclusively online.
Because the athletes are not permitted to use the facilities at Mount Union during this time, they must find alternative ways to keep training. Hershberger noted it will be hard for his team to train away from the university, but he plans to continue workouts at his house.
Hershberger said he is doing all he can to prevent the spread of the virus, but he still wants to remain active.
“I’m just going to try to do my best to stay active in my home and stay active around town to make sure I stay in shape,” he said.
Even though he is losing out on his junior season, Hershberger does not think he will be negatively affected by it next season. He said he is viewing the situation as a way to handle adversity in a positive way.
“I don’t think I’ll be negatively affected by it,” he said. “I think with all the hard work I know I’ve put in, I’ll come out just as good, if not better than before this ever happened.”
One of the goals Hershberger had for this season was to be the OAC outdoor high jump champion, something that he was able to accomplish indoors before the outdoor season was canceled. He also had a goal to be a national qualifier in the high jump event this season.
Hershberger explained how this was disappointing because he had set those goals in August and worked hard since then to be ready to achieve his goals this season, but he will use the adversity to become better in the future.
Hershberger expressed his feelings of disappointment for his teammates who will not get to compete in their last season as a Purple Raider.
“I felt so bad for our seniors,” he said. “At Mount, we have a great senior class. They’re great leaders. All of them work really hard. We’ve had some of the best individual athletes to ever come through this program not be able to finish out their senior indoor season and now their senior outdoor season. One of the first things that I thought of was ‘they’re done; they have no senior season after this. They can’t come back and do the sport they love.’ My heart really broke for them and, talking to some of my teammates, they felt the same way after they heard about it. The first thing they thought of was the seniors and how much they meant to us and their leadership. We just felt so bad for them.”
Hershberger said that even though this is an unfortunate situation, he believes some good will come from it because it made him step back and reflect on his blessings and the gifts he was given. He mentioned how it made him think about how anything can be taken away at any moment and it is out of his control.
“I realize, you’ve got to adapt, you’ve got to evolve and it’s just one of those situations where you just have to make the best with what we’ve got,” he said. “I hope people stay positive, stay supportive of each other and we’re going to get through this. It’s just going to take a little bit of time is all.”
Follow Ariel on Twitter @AStahlerDGKNews