Mark Ferrill is in uncharted territory this spring. For the last 22 years, spring has meant Mohawk baseball for Ferrill, who served first as an assistant, and now as head coach, in addition to playing for four years during his high school days.
But this spring has been a whole different animal for Ferrill, his assistant coaches and the 29 players who wear the scarlet and gray of the Morrisonville-Lincolnwood co-op baseball team as the COVID-19 pandemic has shut down almost everything, including baseball games.
“The hardest part of this delay to the start of the season is honestly the ‘unknown,’” Ferrill said. “The unknown of when we may resume. The unknown of what the players may have going on in their lives. The unknown of how to help them through this time and how to understand something none of us have experienced before. The unknown of how the daily lives of my assistant Coaches are going. And the list could go on and on.”
Before everything came to a halt on Friday, March 13, there were fewer unknowns. The Mohawks knew that they would return a large portion of last year’s team, including seniors Grant Jones, Shawn Goebel, Sam Herman, Dalton Thomas, Jhett Walker and Evan Hopper.
They also knew that this season could be a tough one for things having nothing to do with what was happening on the diamond. Over the winter, the Mohawk baseball family suffered two losses with the deaths of Kim Hopper, mother of Evan Hopper, and Patrick Whalen, patriarch of one of the first names on your lips when you talk about Morrisonville baseball. Mohawk pitcher and Lincolnwood student Michael Jones was also involved in a car accident that claimed the lives of four people, including two students from Vandalia a short time later.
But through all of this, there was the promise of baseball. The sights and sounds of the game have a way of removing some of those things weighing on your mind and undoubtedly the Mohawks were looking forward to getting back on the field on March 17 against Taylorville.
“The last time I had all the team together was the Friday before our first scheduled game. At that time, we were still on for playing on Tuesday,” Ferrill remembered. “Two hours later, I received word we were going to be delayed two weeks, which we all know now, was an unrealistic goal.”
Since then, communication has been limited due to the shelter-in order, and it makes for a poor substitute for the real thing.
Assistant coach and Lincolnwood athletic director Josh Stone said that the time away from the players is the hardest thing about the shutdown.
“We are lucky to spend three-plus months with a great group of players each year, and this year I am having withdrawls,” Stone said. “We are losing chances to build lifelong rapports with the team and make memories that last a lifetime.”
For the coaches, it’s not the wins that they miss, but the time they get to spend with the players that they miss the most, the small things that make athletics a great part of the high school experience.
“I miss the funny pranks and inside jokes that take place in the dugouts. I miss the excitement of the game and the stress of putting a lineup out and making in-game decisions. I miss dance-offs in rain delays,” Stone said. “I never thought I’d say this, but I miss the bus rides and the time you get to communicate with the coaches and players about life outside of baseball: family, friends, school, work, weekend plans, etc.”
Ferrill has tried to stay in touch with his players through group texts and Facebook posts since the shutdown, hoping to keep some sense of normalcy going for the Mohawks. The messages are often lighthearted and baseball related, like memes from the internet, Kenny Rogers’ baseball-themed music video The Greatest, and an occasional wisecrack or two.
“It’s funny, because the way they respond in text is very similar to their personalities in team meetings, huddles and conversations during practice,” Ferrill said. “Some of them throw stuff right back at me. Some of them have short, quick responses. And some of them give no response at all. I’ve been fortunate to have seen a few of the players when I’ve been out and about, but boy do I wish we were back to business as usual.”
While the connection with the players is missed, the coaches know that the safety of the players and their families is what really matters. There are still hopes that they will be able to get together in some form or another once the pandemic subsides, but for now, they’ll focus on what is really important.
“A silver lining for me is that my job usually keeps me away from family dinners, tucking the girls in for bed and catching up with my wife at the end of the day,” said Stone. Both he and Ferrill have young children at home and are used to making the sacrifices that come with coaching. “This quarantine has allowed me to do all of those things and I am truly grateful for that.”