High School seniors sidelined, uncertain of final seasons

The likelihood that the NJSIAA can salvage spring events remains remote, but athletes try to stay positive.

Camden Catholic’s Katie Walsh (No. 14, center) is among the hundreds of seniors across South Jersey who are missing out on their final high school sports seasons and possibly graduation ceremonies, too. Walsh, who led the Irish to a field hockey sectional title in the fall, was set to chase down her 200th career goal in lacrosse this spring. (RYAN LAWRENCE/South Jersey Sports Weekly)

As she retraced her steps from the last month over the phone, Vanesa Pino, the star pitcher of arguably the best team at Gloucester City High School and the valedictorian of the senior class, couldn’t believe so much could upend her final high school season.

It was exactly a month earlier, on March 15, when Gloucester coach Megan Mason decided to hold an intrasquad game with players in full uniform. 

She joked that the seniors should invite their parents. since the match  could be their “Senior Game.” Everyone laughed. 

No one could have predicted it would be their last time together in 2020.

“That Friday we were all in school together, me, (and fellow seniors) Meghan Ferry and Emilee Hillman in first period, talking about it (the basketball state playoffs being canceled), and this was literally a day after our senior trip got postponed,” Pino said. “We were all down in the nurse’s office crying about how in the matter of 24 hours, our senior year did a complete 180.”

After Gov. Phil Murphy announced Thursday that because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, all public schools would remain closed until at least May 15, Pino and the rest of South Jersey’s seniors can only wonder if they’ll even get to walk for graduation this year, let alone finish their prep athletic careers. 

“We’re all in this area of uncertainty,” said Pino, who will major in English at Rutgers-Camden in the fall. “I know that literally every other senior is basically devastated. Because we don’t know what’s happening with graduation … Our class, since it’s a junior and senior high, we’ve all been here since seventh grade and we watched every class experience what we’re never going to get to experience.”

At Clearview Regional, you couldn’t blame senior track standout Zion Fearon if he had a mini self-pity parade. He missed his junior season following knee surgery and battled a foot injury earlier this year, too.

Fearon got back on the track during this winter’s indoor season, but had pinned his hopes on returning 100-percent healthy for the final spring season of his prep career to make an impression on college coaches. 

Thankfully for Fearon, he will be running at a Division I school despite not being able to run at Clearview this spring: he announced last Wednesday that he would accept a scholarship to High Point University in North Carolina.

Clearview Regional High School’s Zion Fearon had hoped this spring would help him land a scholarship. Despite being sidelined with the rest of South Jersey’s seniors this spring, Fearon announced last week that he will continue his track career at High Point University. (BARRY FEARON/Special to The Sun)

“I am really really fortunate; it’s a blessing,” Fearon said. “After all I’ve been through, I’m still able to compete at Division I. I feel that speaks to believing in yourself and knowing you can achieve goals if you keep your mind to it.”

Fearon also has a healthy perspective on being sidelined this spring. 

“Obviously nobody wants to have their season taken away,” he said. “At first I was heartbroken, but I know the safety of everyone is more important … It’s tough not being able to compete. But that’s life. Life isn’t fair and you have to roll with it.”

Marlton native and Camden Catholic senior Katie Walsh, one of the state’s most lethal lacrosse scorers, has tried to stay in shape by running and playing catch with her older brother or the younger kids in her neighborhood. She is still hopeful the spring season can be salvaged.

“It’s just crazy,” Walsh said of the already six week-long break. “First it was (losing) the trip going to Disney, then it was sports; now it might be graduation. It’s just crazy how all of this is happening.” 

Even with the remote chance that the NJSIAA fields an abbreviated season — it announced Thursday it has a model in place to hold competition between May 25 and June 30 — no state tournaments will take place. And players like Walsh will fall short of individual accomplishments that looked like foregone conclusions when practices began in early March.

If Walsh had matched last year’s goal total — she was among the state leaders with 90 — she would finish her high school career with 252 career goals, second all-time in Camden Catholic history.

“I haven’t really been too negative about it,” said Walsh, who will play at Fairleigh Dickinson University in 2021. “I don’t think (the NJSIAA) wants to cancel the season, which is good. So I’ve been trying to think about that, maybe pushing it back to June or whatever they can do.”

While there are larger, more serious matters throughout the country as a result of COVID-19, seeing a senior class lose the opportunity to make memories together in the year’s final months is an unfortunate result of the epidemic that no one could have prepared for. In their own ways, every senior athlete in South Jersey is learning to deal with the fallout.

“This was the last sport we were all going to play together, kind of our last group activity before we go away to college,” said Alex Kadar, a four-year starter on Haddonfield’s baseball team and, like many student athletes at the school, a three-sport star.

Haddonfield senior Alex Kadar, a four-year varsity starter in baseball who also played basketball and football for the Bulldawgs, was hoping to use this spring to see if he should try to walk on at either Georgetown or Wake Forest for baseball. (MIKE MONOSTRA/South Jersey Sports Weekly)

“It’s disappointing,” continued Kadar, who is deciding between Georgetown and Wake Forest University. “I wasn’t sure if I was going to try to (walk on in) college and I was going to decide based on this year. So to not get this year, it’s hard to see if I want to do it or not, if I’m good enough to.

“It was going to be a huge gauge to see if I wanted to perform at the next level.”