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District 9 Baseball and Softball Coaches React to Spring Sports Season Being Canceled

Baseball and softball coaches in District 9 reacted with mixed feelings to Thursday’s announcement that the PIAA was canceling spring sports.

(Photo of Cranberry softball coach Glenn Barcinas, who will not get the chance to see if his team can win a third straight District 9 Class 2A title this year after the PIAA canceled spring sports Thursday)

The PIAA’s decision to end any chance of a spring-sports season came after Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf announced that all schools in the Commonwealth would remain closed to in-person instruction through the end of the 2019-20 school year earlier in the day.

“I am very disappointed for all the kids, coaches, parents and fans,” Punxsutawney softball coach Alan Pifer said. “We had a very good team returning with some talented newcomers. The team was working hard. In particular, I was disappointed for our seniors for all they missed, including softball.”

Cranberry softball coach Glenn Barcinas said he was definitely disappointed.

“My heart goes out to the seniors that didn’t realize their last high school game was last year,” Barcinas, whose team advanced to the PIAA Class 2A semifinals in 2019, said. “I always tell my girls to enjoy every moment on the field because it will end. Unfortunately, it came to a screeching halt. Let’s get through these tough times, regroup and try again. The game we love will be back with renewed energy and passion.”

Redbank Valley baseball coach Craig Hibel also feels for his seniors.

“I feel bad for the seniors, they will never get this year back,” Hibel said. “As coaches, we get to continue on after this year. But, our seniors will never get this back. We’ve only been away from the game for a few weeks, but I really miss the guys that we have on our team. Memories are made every season, and, unfortunately, there won’t be much positive to look back on this year.”

Clarion softball coach Dan Shofestall, who had a chance to make another run in the PIAA Class 1A playoffs this year after reaching the second round at year ago, said the situation is a disappointment for all.

“It’s tough when you lose a whole season when you’ve been thinking, sacrificing, and looking forward to it for quite some time,” Shofestall said. “The tough part is that by the time spring sports start back up again next year it will be pretty close to two years between games that these kids will have played in. It’s nobody’s fault, and I salute everybody who’s sacrificing and helping to fight the battle that our nation is in right now. I know it’s especially disappointing for all seniors that have lost their senior season and feel for them and their teammates.”

Clarion-Limestone baseball coach Todd Smith said the situation is disappointing, especially for his seniors. But he also sees this as an opportunity to teach a strong life lesson.

“No doubt about it, it stinks, especially for the seniors,” Smith said. “But I would challenge my players to become better through it. We were excited about our team, and I will miss it. I will miss being the players every day that I care deeply for and love like my own.

“There are no guarantees. Life isn’t always fair, but how are you going to respond to adversity? When bad things happen we can let it destroy us, we can let it define us, or we can let it develop us into everything God wants us to be. Right now we are all on the same team, and we are being asked to sit on the bench because that’s what’s best for the team. We have to fill our role. What are we all going to do with that time? Are we going to waste it and hang our head or are we going to use the time to develop our skills or work on becoming better people? We have a choice to make and we can come out of this better. It’s all about perspective. And we need to support and cheer for the ones in the game right now, our leaders, first responders, medical staff, grocery store workers, truck drivers, etc. because we want them to be successful. We always say sports are a lot like life, except now it’s not about wins and losses, but life and death. Our players will come out of this better people and they will be successful whether they have this baseball season or not.”

C-L softball coach Jason Craig said it is especially a sad time for seniors.

“It is sad for every player, especially the seniors,” Craig said. “This is the year they worked so hard to get to. These are the memories they were going to hold on to for years. Not playing is only a part of it. It’s also making senior memories at practice, bus rides, Senior Night, your senior banquet, your family cheering for you, saying goodbye to the players you have competed against and learned to respect. It’s not getting closure on your senior year.”

Karns City softball coach Mike Stitt, whose team has played in each of the last three District 9 Class 3A softball title games, said he saw the cancelation coming.

“It’s disappointing to hear that it was canceled, but we knew it would happen,” Stitt said. “As a coach, you’re sad for the girls that have put in the hard work, all the time and the opportunity to succeed again this year. We spend a lot of the time talking about not only softball but life issues as well. You watch them grow from freshmen to seniors and are proud to watch them play and then graduate. We enjoy the time on the bus watching them come together as a team and having fun. I love the game of softball, and I’m sad that I will not get the opportunity to just watch this team play this year.”

Cranberry’s Barcinas had mixed feelings about the timing of the announcement.

“Why not wait until the end of the month and see what happens?” Barcinas said. “If the situation isn’t any better, so be it.

“On the other hand, better to be safe than sorry. I am not sure how all of this is going to pan out. With the pros, Olympics, NCAA, etc, losing billions of dollars, high school sports didn’t have a chance in my opinion.”

Hibel believes the decision was inevitable.

“We will never know if we were too careful during the situation, but you will definitely find out if you don’t take the necessary precautions,” Hibel said.

First-year North Clarion baseball coach Mike Brown, a veteran coach who was the long-time head coach at Redbank Valley and also was the manager for Clarion University, said his main concern is seeing everyone safe.

“I seriously just want everyone safe,” Brown said. “I was really concerned about shortening the season. I feel terrible for the seniors, especially. I am concerned that kids miss so much, academically, socially, and athletically. I was also worried that we would get all of our team back together. It is a most unfortunate situation, to say the least.”

Moniteau assistant baseball coach Mike Jewart, who is also the boys’ basketball coach at the school, said this decision has been coming for a month now, but he wished the governor and the PIAA would have waited a bit longer.

“It was something that has been looming since they first closed the schools,” Jewart said. “I know we were holding out hope that we would get to still have a baseball season. I understand the concern and safety has to come first, but I really wish they would have waited to see what things look like come April 30. Sports brings students and communities together and something that we all look forward to.”

Jewart said he feels horrible for his seniors.

“Seniors have been working their entire careers for this season and now it’s gone. I feel horrible for those kids, and there is really nothing we can say to them other than to be there for them if they need to vent or need someone to talk to.

“I am still coming to grips with it myself and trying to figure out how to be there for these guys. I have coached many of them in basketball and baseball for years and this was not how any of us wanted to see their high school careers come to an end.”

Clarion’s Shofestall said he was appreciative of how the PIAA didn’t rush a decision when things first started breaking in mid-March.

“I thought the PIAA did a good job of not rushing into a hurried decision and held on as long as they could before making a final decision,” Shofestall said.