With a press conference from Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp Wednesday afternoon, any hopes Dalton High School senior Bryce Houghton had of playing baseball for the Catamounts again were over.
The announcement included the closure of all public schools in the state for the rest of the 2019-20 academic year, ending the already suspended season for spring sports such as baseball, lacrosse, soccer, tennis and track. Local school districts began to suspend sports seasons last month due to the outbreak of the new coronavirus, COVID-19, before Kemp's initial mandatory school closure. That closure was extended through April 24 last week, and Wednesday's announcement ends the school year prematurely. The Georgia High School Association, the body governing sports in the state, announced the cancellations in a statement Thursday.
"It's still sinking in," said Houghton when reached Wednesday afternoon. "It's tough. I wanted to get back on that field and play with some of those younger guys, but I guess it's not in the cards."
Murray County High School soccer coach Marco Burgueno said he feared Wednesday's decision would come.
"It's somewhat expected at this point, but still a shock," Burgueno said.
Burgueno's team was six games in its season when the initial suspension was made in March. Murray County had nine seniors on its 2020 roster who saw their final season cut short.
"I really do feel for them. Regardless of win or lose, you're still out there for your teammates. They won't get to be out there. I feel terrible for them," Burgueno said.
Dalton High School’s boys soccer program was in the midst of a title defense of their 2019 State Championship season when the season was originally suspended. Now, coach Matt Cheaves’s Catamounts won’t get a shot to repeat.
“I’m just heartbroken for those guys. We felt like we were just starting to play well. I think we had just turned a corner at the time. You’ve just got to keep it in perspective. We’re talking about saving people’s lives here.”
Aside from finishing his final high school baseball campaign, Houghton said he was also looking forward to finishing out his high school career as a normal senior and going to prom.
"Graduation will probably happen eventually, but who knows," said Houghton, who will continue his baseball career at Cleveland State Community College in Tennessee.
“I especially want to commend the graduating seniors who have not only missed most of the spring season but prom, senior nights, awards ceremonies, possibly graduation, and spent the last few months away from their friends and classmates,” GHSA Executive Director Robin Hines was quoted as saying in the release. “Our seniors have a great deal to be proud of and while this is not the way any of us wanted it to end, I want to thank them for a job well done.”
Amid the COVID-19 outbreak, most of the United States has been shutting down or suspending schools and sports. Georgia's neighbors in Alabama saw their seasons and school years end last week.
"It's really hard to take," Burgueno said of his seniors. "I don't know what kind of consolation it is, but at least they're not the only ones going through it."