Almost everyday, Litchfield Head Softball Coach Jessica Ball receives a reminder of what the COVID-19 pandemic is taking from her team.
“I already uploaded the schedule and everyday it pops up on my phone,” Ball said. “It’s like, we should be here today or here today. It’s really tough.”
After two rebuilding seasons, Ball was excited to enter the 2020 campaign, before the season was halted before it could begin due to the virus.
“I think we were going to be pretty good this year to be honest,” Ball said. “There were some bright spots. I was looking forward to seeing some players step up and now, we are probably not going to have that.”
The cancellation is tough for everyone on the team, but particularly for Litchfield’s three seniors: Emily Senjan, Mallory Beechler and Carly Boden. Senjan will continue playing in college after signing to attend Parkland College earlier this year, but will miss the chance to take the field once more with her classmates, who have been fixtures in the starting line-up for several seasons.
“I am heartbroken for my seniors because this is their last year to play together,” said Ball, who coached the trio in their sophomore and junior seasons. “It’s an unprecedented time for all of us. It’s just one of those things that no one knows how to handle.”
Ball said that she has tried to stay connected with her players during the break through text messages and is going to try to meet online via Zoom with the team. A P.E. teacher in the Litchfield school district, Ball said that her co-workers recently had a Zoom meeting and the face-to-face interaction was really positive for the group. Ball would also like to have some kind of senior night or game for the team once the pandemic has passed, but she’s not sure of what she can do quite yet.
“I want to do something once this is all said and done. They’ve talked about trying to get a game with another team, just for fun, but I’m not sure of the IHSA rules for that,” Ball explained.
As a young coach and a former high school and college athlete, Ball can relate to what are players are feeling… she just doesn’t know how to help.
“I just feel so bad for everyone. As coaches, we are supposed to be there to help guide these kids and give them advice,” Ball said. “But what kind of advice are you supposed to give them when you don’t know how to navigate the situation yourself?”
Regardless of what the outcome of the next few months is, it’s evident that the Purple Panthers have an advocate in their coach, someone who will do what she can to bring some sense of normalcy back.
“It’s not about the paycheck. This is where our heart is,” Ball said of herself and her fellow coaches. “There are kids that need this sport to make their hearts right and to make their lives better. Now we don’t have that interaction with them, and that’s what’s hard.”