Photo courtesy Bill Bell 
                                Annalynn Brown, a member of the Homer softball team, winds up for a pitch in this undated photo.

Photo courtesy Bill Bell Annalynn Brown, a member of the Homer softball team, winds up for a pitch in this undated photo.

The seniors of spring sports: Softball

This is the first in a series of stories highlighting the seniors who would have been playing their final sports seasons this spring.

When the Alaska School Activities Association announced on March 23 it was canceling all of the state’s spring sports, it was another line in the defense against the spread of COVID-19, the illness caused by the novel coronavirus, but a heavy blow to many high school seniors who will now be deprived of playing their final seasons.

In Homer, that means a handful of softball, soccer, baseball and track and field athletes are left to reflect on the years they’ve been able to spend on the field thus far — athletes like Annalynn Brown, who had played on the varsity team starting in her freshman year.

Brown has played softball since she was young.

“I have been doing it since I was little, and I’ve been playing with a lot of the same girls since I was little,” she said. “A lot of the girls on that team are some of my best friends.”

Brown and fellow senior Kaitlyn Johnson described what it felt like to learn their final season would not be happening. Brown said the team was following the situation and figured spring sports would start back up after a delay.

“And then when we found out … that it was completely over, it was really devastating,” she said.

“It was really heart breaking,” Johnson wrote in an email. “It’s hard to wrap your head around the fact that in the matter of a month everything around you has changed so drastically. It also doesn’t help knowing that the last season I went out on bad note, and it’s hard to think that it was my last game ever.”

Johnson has played on the varsity team all three years she’s been in high school — she played third base her freshman year, and shortstop her sophomore and junior years.

“I have played softball for as long as I remember, but I know for sure that I have played since 2010,” she wrote.

The seniors said saying goodbye to their final season was so hard because they, along with their teammates, have been working so hard — not just each spring, but in the off seasons, too.

“A lot of is on that varsity team put in so much work over this fall and winter,” Brown said. “And we had a lot of hopes of this 2020 season being our best year yet.”

Performing well at, if not winning, the state championships this year was one of those hopes, she said.

“We always talked about when we were seniors, that would be our golden year,” Brown said.

Still, Brown and Johnson are taking a lot away from their high school softball careers.

“It was so worth it for me to invest the past 10 years of my life into this sport,” Johnson wrote. “It was incredible getting to be coached by Bill (Bell) and Hannah (Zook). I have never met anyone in my life that knows more about the game than Bill. Softball has taught me more life lessons than I can remember and I am going to miss it so much. I am so grateful for all that I can take away from this experience: winning regions all three years, winning a 4A tournament, fighting the wind and rain in Kodiak, and cheering for my teammates at the top of my lungs.”

“It’s unforgettable.”

Johnson thanks the community for their part in all this, too.

“I would like to appreciate the community for all that they do,” she wrote. “Whether it’s coming to our games, or buying raffle tickets, the support of the community means everything. Thank you.”

As head coach, Dr. Bill Bell acknowledged all the hard work the team had been putting in as a whole to get to this spring season.

“My sadness for the team season is for the lost potential,” he wrote in an email.

Having lost one player from the previous season, this year’s team would have been cohesive and motivated, he said. And hungry.

“The season had been scheduled to really peak for the region tournament – looking to our fourth straight Northern Lights Championship,” Bell wrote. “My sadness personally is not having the chance to watch all these women, but especially the seniors, grow in physical skills and mental maturity to prepare them for heading out on their own. I have hopes that we will be able to all get together for a celebration of team-ness sometime in the early summer but rest assured, the planning has already started for next year.”

Assistant coach Hannah Zook said, too, that the team had been working “incredibly hard” this off season.

“… And it was a huge let down for all of us to not actually be able to compete,” she wrote in an email.

Zook has enjoyed watching the team come back together each spring and combine their individual skills to work together, she said.

“I know we are not able to compete on the field this year but I know these young women sure have been and will continue to be competitors in life,” she wrote. “They have some pretty amazing goals and dreams as well as hearts to serve. It has been a privilege to be able to work with them. I am so proud of their hearts to look beyond softball and to be lights to those around them.”

Bell spoke about the responsibility of coaches to impart not only skills for the game, but skills for life.

“Coaches always say that we are in the business of teaching life skills and not just teaching the sport,” he wrote. “That is very much true for everyone but I think it is especially true for softball since there is so much failure built into the sport. And it is not just team failure; it is spotlighted individual failure that impacts the team as a whole — striking out with the bases loaded, dropping the fly ball, throwing the ball over the fence — and it comes with a period of reflection so players can really start to lose their self confidence.”

Teenage women, especially, are resilient and able to climb back up from self doubt to support their teammates, Bell said.

“I am probably prejudiced but I do not think there is another high school sport that teaches failure so bluntly,” he wrote.

Brown, too, said she is grateful for the coaching and guidance provided by Bell and Zook.

“I would just say that playing with this team has been some of the best years of my life,” she said.

The 2020 spring softball season seniors are:

Rayana Vigil

Kaitlyn Johnson

Annalynn Brown

Aspen Wallis

Becca Chapman

Reach Megan Pacer at mpacer@homernews.com.

This article has been corrected to reflect that softball player Annalynn Brown has been a member of the varsity team since she was a freshman.

Photo courtesy Bill Bell 
                                Becca Chapman, a member of the Homer softball team, winds up for a pitch in this undated photo.

Photo courtesy Bill Bell Becca Chapman, a member of the Homer softball team, winds up for a pitch in this undated photo.

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