WILMINGTON – On Tuesday afternoon, Governor Charlie Baker announced that all Massachusetts schools will be closed for the remainder of the school year, due to the COVID-19 virus, thus ending any kind of hope of a spring high school sports season.
The Town Crier sent out an email to interim Athletic Director Ed Harrison, emails to all of the spring varsity coaches and asked on the Town Crier's social media sites for senior athletes to weigh in on their thoughts and of having their season and careers come to an abrupt stop. Below are the responses we received upon our deadline.
"This is unpresented and it is hard to deal with on so many levels," said Harrison. "I feel so bad for all students but more importantly our seniors and the end of the year activities that they will not share with each other. To our athletes, I cannot begin to fathom the thoughts and feeling you are having. Stay positive, stay safe and stay healthy.”
Several members of the WHS Baseball team reached out to share their feelings. Last year the Wildcats finished 10-11 overall, which included a first round state tournament loss to Dracut. The Wildcats were returning the majority of their starting line-up and had some big expectations and big dreams, which have now been shattered.
"A bad situation has just been made worse," said Brendan George. "First we got taken out of school way from all of our friends. Academically, I feel that we should be able to have the same opportunity as every other (previous WHS) senior class. It's sad that we may not be able to have that because of a pandemic.
"On the sports side of things, this is a different story. Sports is a lifestyle for so many people and to just have it end the way it did with (this announcement) is just heartbreaking. All of us on the baseball team were all working hard and grinding for the season to hopefully bring home a state championship. It's sad to see it all go, but the show goes on.
"It's sad that I can't have one last go around with the boys of summer but words do no justice for the feelings we all have. The pride we all carried for this team was what made it special to all of us. It means the world to play for Wilmington and to have (the nickname) Wildcats across your chest. I sure hope that future athletes who have the privilege of wearing the Wilmington uniform, wear it with pride and respect. I was honored to be called a captain among my peers and it was truly a privilege to play for this town and this school."
Fellow captain Tristan Ciampa, the team's top pitcher, echoed the words from George saying that he expected a season that lasted deep into the month of June.
"I’m honestly in shock," said Ciampa. "This hasn’t really sunk in yet and I don’t know when it will. I’ve been really looking forward to this season, same with the rest of the team. We were outside almost everyday when the weather was nice practicing and getting ready before schools were shut down. We’re all disappointed here. If it was up to us, we’d be out there playing right now. I wish it was different and so do my teammates.
"As captain of the squad, I was lookin forward to this season the most. Leading the team to a deep playoff run was one of my huge goals coming into this season, and I know we have a team that can do it. But there’s nothing we can do, we can’t control this or overturn Governor Baker's decision. Best thing we can all do is just do our part and follow the guidelines given to us. Even though we all wish this was different, we just have to keep moving forward and the guys understand that.
"I’ll forever be thankful for all my teammates and the memories we’ve shared. From all the bus rides, team dinners, all the fun practices, and all the fun we had winning games. They are a big part of my life and I’ll never forget all the fun times we had. It’s been a great ride and I’ll be forever thankful."
A third senior, Vinny Scalfani, said that after losing 11-1 to Dracut last year, he and the rest of the team had one mission this season.
"I couldn’t wait for my senior year of baseball to start and have one final ride with my brothers," he said. "Having this cut short is really a shot to the heart knowing how hard each and everyone of us had worked in the off-season at our captains practices. We all knew we had something to prove not only to ourselves but to each other and this town after coming off a first round (state tournament) exit last year. It's just an all around terrible situation and wish it hadn’t happened just like everyone else around the world. But to my teammates, thank you guys for everything and supporting me truly an honor to be a part of a great team with you guys."
The other two seniors on the team include Bailey Smith, who was a Lowell Sun All-Star and All-Conference second baseman, breaking a 20-year-old record with stolen bases in a season, and Harry Serounian.
Both the Wilmington High boys and girls tennis teams were coming off terrific seasons. The boys team finished 6-12 overall, which included qualifying for the state tournament with a team mostly made up of underclassmen and middle school athletes. Wilmington was defeated 5-0 by Lynnfield in the first round of the Division 3 North Sectional tournament. Bringing the entire team back on paper was something head coach Rob Mailey was looking forward to.
"I know the boys tennis team is extremely disappointed to hear that the season is cancelled," he said. "We are a young group that had some success last year reaching the state tournament.We had hoped to build on that this year. All we can do now is continue to practice as well as off court conditioning as we look forward to 2021. We are fortunate with no seniors so that we will not be losing any players. Look for Wilmington Boys Tennis to be a force in 2021."
On the girls side, Wilmington finished 11-6 overall, which included a first round loss to Newburyport. Almost the entire starting line-up was lost to graduation, but head coach Matt Hackett was optimistic that the inexperienced players would develop and fill those voids.
"I'm obviously beyond saddened and disappointed with the news that we have lost our entire spring season," he said. "Even though I knew in the back of my head it was coming, it still hits you like a ton of bricks when you actually get the news and have to inform your athletes. I feel terrible for the student-athletes, who worked so hard in the off-season to prepare for the upcoming season. I feel even worse for all senior athletes who will miss all that comes with their senior campaign. Each season brings with it special memories, moments and relationships. To know that there will be a missing chapter for 2020 seems surreal."
Much like the boys team, the girls roster would have been extremely young this season, with just one senior.
"Angelica Loshak joined our team as a junior and made an immediate impact,” said Hackett. “She learned the game quickly using her volleyball skill set to develop a strong volley and serve. She made contributions to our varsity line-up and would have been a key player in our 2020 season. I am disappointed I will not get to see Angelica's game develop to the next level. She's a wonderful young lady, very coachable and an excellent student. I feel fortunate to have had an opportunity to coach her. I had other seniors that were going to tryout as well and I will miss the opportunity to work with them.”
Much like the girls tennis team, the softball team had one returning senior on this year's team, Cassidy Ross.
"I don't want to minimize the fact that we have one senior," said head coach Audrey Cabral-Pini. "Cassidy did it. She hung on others quit. She stuck with it because she loves the game. She deserves the shout out. Cassidy was a late addition to the team a few years ago because she came from a different school. She came into the program not knowing anyone but she is leaving having made lots of friends as well as working herself up to the varsity level. She was not a starter last year, but worked hard this off-season to make sure she would have an impact. Cassidy participated in a hitting clinic and also was an instructor in a clinic put on by the Wilmington Youth program.
"I feel disappointed and heartbroken that not only will Cassidy not get to play this year — her final season and first as a starter, but also misses out on all of that goes with being a senior: no senior night; no speeches written by teammates as to her impact on individuals and the program; no ceremonial run of the bases; receiving recognition from other teams; no team dinners; no spirit days; no sports banquet, never mind senior activities that aren't softball related like prom, graduation and senior week. Cassidy misses out in many once in a lifetime experiences. Her season and her high school career ended abruptly — boom it's over."
Last year the softball team finished 14-7 overall, including a first round state tournament loss to Essex Tech. The Wildcats lost almost its entire roster to graduation, including pitcher Aly Moran, so losing a season to get the underclassmen experience will certainly put a dent into the program.
"I figured this day was coming but I kept hoping especially when the MIAA came out with a plan of condensed season, it was a flicker of hope," said Cabral-Pini. "I was just heartbroken especially for the seniors. Not only for seniors on every spring sports team, but seniors in general, both at high school and the college level. But I understand that it must be safety first.
"Losing this season is a big loss for our softball program. Over the years, we have benefitted from getting middle schoolers to play at the JV level. Exposing them to high school sports at a young age helped make our team very competitive. These girls and other new players won't get this experience. The varsity players have also lost a chance to learn and develop their skills."
When the Town Crier had the opportunity to talk to Jeff Keefe back in February about taking over as head coach of the Wilmington High Boys Lacrosse team, the enthusiastic coach could not wait to get started on the upcoming season.
“I wouldn’t have taken the job if I didn’t think so,” Keefe responded when he was asked if he felt like the team could be successful this season. “More than anything else, I just like coaching and being part of the team. We are going to have some on field goals, but more than anything I am just happy to be here and be part of the Wilmington community, and being part of being a positive role model for these kids, not only being a coach, but being a teacher as well. I think overall it is going to be a good fit for me."
Unfortunately for Keefe and the Wildcats they will have to wait a little longer to prove that they are ready to improve on last season’s 5-11 record. The Wildcats looked to be on their way to improving at the end of last season, going 2-3 over their last five games, and were looking to take another step forward this season with a talented and more experienced team.
“We understand the necessity of forgoing this season. This does not take away from us having a deep sense of disappointment over not being able to compete in the game we love,” Keefe said. “Our players and program will miss a year of growth and social bonding opportunities.”
Keefe would have been looking to a talented group of seniors to lead his team this season, including Thomas Grecco, Taylor Padulsky, Christian Robarge, Zach Kincaid and Ryan Martin. They of course will never get that opportunity to lead their team, and that is the worst part of the season’s cancellation in Keefe’s eyes. Keefe is however, looking forward to a bright future for Wilmington lacrosse.
“Our seniors will miss several important milestones both on and off the field. We congratulate them on the accomplishments they achieved over their three years of commitment to athletics,” Keefe said. “We believe this will only temporarily stall the growth of our promising program. A return to the sports we love cannot be achieved without diligence and support for each other. We will accomplish this and we will again play, coach, and cheer on the sports we love. We very much look forward to that day.”
After a winless campaign in 2018, the Wilmington High Girls Lacrosse team began to make some strides last season, winning two games on the year, but more importantly showing a consistent effort throughout the season, while also gaining some valuable experience that second year coach Bill Manchester was looking to build on heading into this season.
For Manchester, who took over the program last season and is looking forward to building a winning tradition at Wilmington High, having tell his players that there would be no season was very difficult, especially since there seemed to be a renewed interest in the program at Wilmington High.
“I understand why schools (and therefore sports) have to be closed for the remainder of the year. At the same time, I am bummed for the seniors and the entire group of lacrosse girls,” Manchester said. “They are a great group of girls. They were really looking forward to the season and were focused on trying to improve day to day! Coach (Shane) Kligerman and myself felt very encouraged by the returning players and by how much we had learned over the course of last year. The numbers for the program were going to be great, up over 40 players.”
Among those players was a group of four seniors that Manchester was confident would have done a fine job leading this year’s squad. The seniors included Shannon Barrett, Sam Burke, Jessie McCullough and Bridget O’Shea.
“Shannon thinks of herself only as an elite cheerleader, but also started to emerge as an elite lacrosse player last spring. Shannon has unbelievable speed and really started to find her groove as a goal scorer towards the second half of the year and was our second highest goal scorer on the season,” Manchester said. “Sam has the ability to match up and compete with the best of the best girls lacrosse players in the state. Sam has a great understanding of ALL phases of the game, offense, defense, transition and draws. She is great at passing and shooting, and was a double digit goal scorer last year.”
Manchester had equal words of praise for both McCullough and O’Shea.
“Jessie is a top competitor and was a double digit scorer. Jessie came back from a torn knee earlier in her high school career to be one of the hardest working players as a junior. She is very strong as an attack, could always find a way to get in position to get a shot off and was hard to beat when fighting for a ground ball. She is a member of the varsity soccer team as well,” Manchester said. “Bridget is tough as can be at the defensive end. She helped to groom some of our younger defensive players. She is very physical and competes hard from start of game to the finish. Bridget doesn't back away from any challenges. She also plays defense for the Girls Hockey Team. I’m watching encore of the 2011 Bruins run to Stanley Cup — Bridget would have fit in great with that championship team.”
Not only does Manchester miss the lacrosse team, he is also missing his time as a teacher at Wilmington High, and he feels for all of the students who are missing out on school, not just the student athletes.
“In general, I miss the entire Wilmington High School community. It is always nice to hear from students what colleges they get into and discuss their disappointments, and watch as they prepare for and get excited for proms, award banquets, and finally graduation,” Manchester said. “Also knowing that it is a big deal not only for the student, but his entire family and their entire "village" that has helped raise them. It's a tough time to be a young adult.”