NCAA cancels winter championships, rest of spring season

Local athletes offer thoughts on the unprecedented situation

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The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) was not saved from the coronavirus outbreak and similarly shut down operations akin to professional and high school sports although they took a more permanent approach at the collegiate level.

“Today (March 12), NCAA President Mark Emmert and the Board of Governors canceled the Division I men’s and women’s 2020 basketball tournaments, as well as all remaining winter and spring NCAA championships,” its statement reads. “This decision is based on the evolving COVID-19 public health threat, our ability to ensure the events do not contribute to spread of the pandemic, and the impracticality of hosting such events at any time during this academic year given ongoing decisions by other entities.”

Despite shutting down the spring season, the Council Coordination Committees at each division “agreed that eligibility relief is appropriate for all Division I (II, and III) student-athletes who participated in spring sports,” it states in a March 13 release.

A pair of former Sealy athletes currently in the collegiate ranks will benefit from another spring season but one of them found out of the NCAA shut down while preparing for his winter national championship track meet.

“We actually went up Tuesday to Albuquerque, New Mexico for Indoor Nationals,” said Clayton Fritsch, Sealy High School class of 2017 and Sam Houston State junior. “We had Wednesday to train and even then, there was talk because that's when the NBA started to postpone their games and cancel their games. We saw that and thought ‘Okay, well, we're not too worried about it right now because we're not near as big of a crowd.’”

Later that night, the meet attendance was changed to only include limited family and essential personnel. Thursday began with the announcement that no fans would be allowed before a lunchtime announcement called the whole meet off.

Although he will certainly be gaining an extra spring eligibility, the winter eligibility is the next question because a nagging injury held Fritsch off the pole vault runway.

“I wasn't able to compete at conference because I had a hamstring injury so I don't know if I've missed so many meets that I could get my indoor season back or not,” he said.

Near the other end of the spectrum sits Garret Zaskoda, a member of Sealy High School’s class of 2019 and a pitcher on the Rice Owl baseball team who pitched only nine innings over seven appearances, recording nine strikeouts.

Zaskoda said he and his teammates saw the news coming down the pike but held out until the announcement was made that the season was all for naught.

“We had been seeing everything else getting canceled and postponed and had a couple of messages passed through until they eventually said we're done,” he said. “I didn't really know what to think, maybe we'd only have to miss a couple of weeks and then we could keep playing but we just have to play it by ear and there's only so much you can do.”

Luckily for him, sitting at home and residing under the same roof is a perfectly willing and able catch partner in younger brother Blake who is currently a junior at Sealy and the starting catcher but also unable to play at the moment.

“I’ll probably throw with my brother, but I think (Justin) Eckhardt will be back, some other old teammates,” Zaskoda added. “I'll keep throwing and keep trying to get better for whatever the next season is; if summer ball happens, and if not, oh well.”

Both student-athletes also talked about their classes going all online to help reduce the spread of the virus, an aspect more familiar to Fritsch but altogether new for Zaskoda.

“That's definitely going to be a little tough,” Fritsch said of an all-online class schedule, “it'll definitely be a learning process for all of us. I did have a couple classes that were online, but I've never had a full 12 or 15 hours online so that's gonna be challenging for not only me but everybody.

“I know myself and it takes so much just to get up and go to class and do your stuff,” he continued. “Now it's really gonna be a lot of time management for myself and just sitting down and actually doing the work.”

“I kind of like it,” Zaskoda said. “Some people don't but it'll be nice to just hang out at home and do my own thing. I haven't (taken an online course yet) so that'll be interesting, we'll see how that goes.”

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