For the first time since 1979, Dan Newkirk has had the spring off, but it’s definitely not by choice for the veteran coach of the Litchfield High School boys track team.
“This is year 30 for me and I’ve never seen anything like this,” said Newkirk, who has been either a competitor or a coach since middle school. “When 9/11 happened we were off a week and that felt like an eternity. This is so far beyond anything like that. Hopefully, we will never see anything like it again.”
When the season was first put on hold due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Newkirk tried to keep the thought that a shortened season may be possible in his athletes heads.
“We put up some suggested workouts available for each of the different training groups for them to take advantage of if they want to,” Newkirk said. “We just want to keep letting them know that there is a possibility to come back.”
But with the recent extension of the “stay-at-home” order by the governor, the chance of having any season at all is becoming more and more remote. Even if part of the season is able to occur, Newkirk says that the athletes wouldn’t be at their best, like they would be if they had a full season to work on their events, and that injuries are also a concern after that long of a layoff.
Newkirk’s biggest concern isn’t about the times or distances though. It’s about his athletes, some of whom have been with him for the last four years, and all of the seniors at Litchfield and other schools.
“I really feel for all of the senior athletes. It’s unfortunate that it looks like they are going to lose their senior season,” Newkirk said. “We have five seniors and they all really like competing. I just feel bad for them.”
This year’s senior athletes are John Corso, Dylan Maxwell, Jefferson Thomas, Colton Wall and Austin Niehaus. All five are multi-sport athletes and have been diligent workers for the LHS track team. Niehaus even has a state appearance on his resume, after being a part of last year’s 4x800 team with 2019 grads Damon Burdell and Alex Fischer and current sophomore Cameron Crow.
While he hasn’t been able to meet with his athletes in person, Newkirk said that he has a Google Classroom made up of the track team, which has allowed him to touch base with them, even though it’s a little outside Newkirk’s comfort zone.
“I’m not the most tech savy, so it’s been good for me, and a challenge at times,” Newkirk said.
Technology, and extra time, has also given the veteran coach a chance to connect with former athletes as well. Newkirk recently set up a Facebook group for Litchfield track, which has allowed alumni to relive their time on the track through photographs.
“I was a little bored one afternoon and set it up,” he said. “It’s been neat to see.”
While pictures of this season will be few, if any, hopefully the memories of seasons past will take some of the sting out of their season on the sidelines.