By Chris Yow
Next week, the Tennessee High School Soccer Coaches Association 2020 State Championships were set to take place at Gatlinburg’s Rocky Top Sports World, with the C-Town Soccer ‘Lions’ and ‘Spartan FC’ out of Spring Hill among the participants.
With Gov. Bill Lee’s announcement on Monday that contact sports may not proceed, the tournament has been cancelled, leaving coaches and players understandably disappointed.
“I just hurt,” Columbia Central coach Greg Szydlowski said. “I hurt with (the players). As a coach, people don’t understand we get adrenaline, too, especially when you have a good group of kids.”
Consoling his team will be difficult, Szydlowski admitted, but the legacy left behind by the seniors from the squad will be felt for the next several years.
“Columbia Central is a boys soccer school,” he said. “Every year, we have been on the cusp of competing at the highest level with the best clubs in the state. This team will have a lot to do with the success of future teams.”
Szydlowski’s team was poised to make a big run in the district this season, winning the only district game they were able to play before the season was cancelled 3-1 over Shelbyville. This tournament — organized by Gatlinburg-Pittman coach Zach Schrandt, along with the THSSCA — was going to be a barometer for the what-ifs.
“We thought we had a chance to go farther than we have the last two years, and this tournament was a chance for vindication,” Szydlowski said.
Summit coach Dustin Butler said anticipation was building to the tournament among his players, only for them to learn of the disappointing ending through Gov. Lee’s order.
“Our kids are pretty bummed, I think,” he said, though he’s not been able to have any direct contact with them due to the TSSAA dead period. “For it to get this close to the actual tournament and then play out the way it did, it’s unfortunate to say the least.”
Butler said his team will meet on Monday as planned, but the meeting will be to enjoy being together with his seniors and have a little fun. The message to those seniors who won’t get a chance to take the field one last time will be to find the positive.
“My message to my seniors Monday night will be to not have any regrets in life,” Butler said. “A lot of times high school student athletes get caught up going through the motions in life and take their individual sport(s) for granted.
“It is important that all of my guys try to find a silver lining from the current situation. Something that makes them better. Something they can use down the road.”
THSSCA president Russ Plummer said the announcement from Lee caught many by surprise, despite rising cases of COVID-19 across the state.
“I don’t think anybody anticipated (the announcement),” he said. “I feel so bad for these kids, mostly. Losing so much of their season, and having their hopes and dreams dashed a second time.”
Plummer said he hopes the soccer community understands the THSSCA was in no way trying to set the students up to be let down, and that all of the effort put forth by his organization, as well as Schrandt, was in good faith.
“We really are disappointed that we can’t give these kids a chance to go out the way they deserve,” he said.