PANAMA CITY BEACH, Fla. (WJHG/WCEP) It's a case of more bad news on the Junior College athletics front.
Early Monday afternoon the NJCAA made the call to cancel the remainder of the spring sports seasons, meaning no softball or baseball for the rest of 2020, affecting six teams in our area, two each at Chipola, Northwest Florida and Gulf Coast.
As part of that same release the NJCAA announced it was canceling the men's and women's National Tournaments. Previously, those tournaments, originally set to take place the week of March 16th through the 20th, were postponed to sometime in mid-April.
That at least left some glimmer of hope for the Lady Raiders, Lady Commodores and the Gulf Coast men's team, who all qualified for those 24 team tournaments, the ladies in Lubbock, Texas. The men in Hutchinson, Kansas.
The NCAA had already canceled March Madness, and spring sports, so the fear was the NJCAA would follow suit. Then over the weekend, the C-D-C suggested no events of any kind with 50 people or more for the next two months.
"When we saw that we kind of knew that was the end of it." coach Gaffney told me by phone Monday. "Once the CDC put that out, there's no way that Chris Parker, the Executive Director of the NJCAA could overrule that. That was just going to be a reality of the situation. It's just the irony of not winning a championship in 48 years, and you finally win a championship and now the Gulf Coast men don't get to go to the National Tournament and compete for a national title. It's an irony and a lot of bad luck. But a lot of people have it a lot worse than we do and we just have to be happy that we did get a championship for the first time in 48 years. And savor all the good things that did happen this year."
So the coach working hard to keep things in perspective. Still, given it's a season in which he had a heart attack, and then open heart surgery, and struggled to get back on the bench, well this is a tough pill to swallow. And on top of it all, for a program that's been absent from the National Tournament for nearly five decades!
"That's the biggest stage that we are on. It's just a great opportunity and the fact that you don't get to do it is extremely disappointing, and especially after me being out and having the heart attack and then not being able to come back. The delay actually made it even better for me with the postponement, I was going to be in better shape and stronger everyday, and I was so excited, so it is disappointing that I don't get to coach these guys again. I kind of got ripped off for over a month, a month and a half of coaching them That's the reality. A lot of people have it a lot worse than us. I can't imagine being a spring sport just getting started and the rug is getting pulled out from underneath you and you're not playing."
Northwest Florida State College (NWFSC) also taking a blow as they too are affected by this decision.
"The NJCAA is in line with every other sporting organization in the country. I appreciate their patience in trying to see it thorough, but they have to do what is best for the student-athletes and their well-being. We are proud of our student-athletes, coaches, and staff and all that we have accomplished this year," said NWFSC Athletic Director, Ramsey Ross.
NWFSC head baseball coach, Doug Martin, also recognizes the severity of the situation.
"We feel terrible about the situation that we're in and for the players that worked so hard for this season. We respect the decision made by the NJCAA; the safety and health of our student-athletes comes first. We look forward to getting back on the field and competing next year," said Martin.
"We understand why this decision was made and how difficult it must have been. I feel for the kids that had their season end so suddenly, but their health and well-being is the most important thing at this time," said Andy Lee, NWFSC head softball coach.
Bart Walker, FWSC head women's basketball coach, who would have also been travelling to the national tournament with his team, understands the seriousness of these circumstances.
"We understand the severity of the situation, the circumstances, and the impact it has on our community. We are obviously disappointed that we will not get to play for a national championship, but I'm extremely proud of our team and all that they have accomplished," said Walker.
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