The annual Bossier Parish Championships track and field meet was supposed to be held Thursday at Benton’s Tiger Stadium.
But instead of the sounds of the starter’s pistol and teammates cheering for and encouraging each other, there was only silence.
The high school track season was abruptly suspended after only one Bossier Parish meet was held when Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards shut down schools beginning March 16 in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. A week later, Edwards issued a “stay-at-home” order until April 12. Thursday, that order was extended until the end of the month.
So, like the rest of the spring sports seasons, track and field is in a holding pattern with coaches and athletes waiting to see if the season will continue.
The LHSAA issued its first statement on the status of the spring sports seasons since March 16 on Friday.
It said in part: “As the LHSAA staff and Executive Committee continue to monitor updates from Governor Edwards office, as well as state and local health departments, we continue to support the possibility of our member schools completing their spring sports seasons. If and when schools are allowed to return to session will determine the length of the spring sports seasons and the potential of LHSAA State Championships.”
When the schools were first closed, Commissioner Eddie Bonine said all options were on the table, including the possibility of playing into June. Bonine told the Baton Rouge Advocate on Tuesday the stay-at-home extension just extends the LHSAA’s decision-making process. The LHSAA’s executive committee is scheduled to meet April 7-8.
When the original order to close schools was made, Parkway was preparing to compete in the Byrd meet at Lee Hedges Stadium. But that was canceled.
“The kids took it pretty hard at first and then we kind of talked it through and thought that as long as there was a chance the LHSAA might let us compete we were going to keep working,” Parkway head girls coach Kent Falting said.
Like coaches in other sports, Falting has been able to keep in contact with his athletes through group messaging. The distance runners group was already in place because they train year-round. There is also a group for athletes in other track events.
“The first week we had track workouts the kids were going to do that was posted on the group meet,” Falting said. “They would go at different times. And then the stay-at-home rule came in so we’ve gotten very creative. There are lots of things like backyard sprints, 400-meter loops around your neighborhood block and stuff like that we’ve kind of put into place.”
Bossier head coach Clint Walker has also tried to remain in contact with his athletes. Bossier has one of the state’s top athletes in Decamerion Richardson, who finished second in the Class 4A 100-meter dash and high jump and third in the 200 in the state meet last year.
The Shamocus Patton Benton Tiger Relays on March 5 was the only meet held in Bossier Parish before the suspension. Richardson didn’t compete in that because he was playing basketball for a Bearkats team that won the Class 3A state championship.
“Decam’s been chomping at the bit,” Walker said. “I feel bad for those kids. They can’t even go on the campus and run.
“The kids are wondering what’s happening. They’ve never been through something like this.”
Falting is doing what he can to make sure his athletes remain motivated and keep a positive attitude
He has been doing an equivalent workout of whatever workout his distance runners do that day. That meant on Thursday he and assistant coach Chris Kennady ran six miles through a nature reserve trail.
“My first priority is for them to be mentally healthy,” he said. “They’re going through something that they’ve never been through in their lives. We’ve got seniors on the team that have no idea if the season is over and they didn’t get to have a senior season.
“So more important than the running is getting them mentally OK. We sometimes put something funny in the group meet or something like that to kind of keep them happy.”
Falting said he’s heard some rumors about what might take place if the season is resumed. One is an all-comers regional to qualify for the state meet. But then a venue would have to be found to host the state meet. LSU’s Bernie Moore Stadium, the usual site, won’t be available.
“As long as that’s on the table I’m going to let the kids keep up hope and I’m going to encourage them to have hope,” he said. “I don’t want them to lose hope and I don’t want to shut it down and then have them come back and say, we are going to do something. So we’re just trying to keep the kids mentally in it. We’ve shown them a lot of praise, trying to let them know we’re here for them.”
The original dates of the state meet were May 7-9. Athletes normally qualify for the state meet through regional meets which follow the district meets. If the schools re-open in May, the only way for district and regional meets to take place would be for the season to extend into late May or early June.
Falting has three seniors — sprinter Jordan Dukes, distance runner Jazz Rasouliyan and discus thrower Zoe Scanlon.
“I feel awful for Jazz, but I also feel blessed Jazz got to run a cross country season and an indoor track season so there was something there,” Falting said.
No field events were held in the Benton meet because of wet conditions so Scanlon hasn’t competed at all yet. Falting said she has improved from throwing in the 70s (feet) last year to the 90s in practice before the shutdown.
Falting feels especially bad for Dukes, who won the 200 in the Benton meet and finished third in the 100.
“We always joked every year she starts in the low 13s (seconds) and gets to the low 12s in the 100, and this year she started out in the low 12s,” he said. “The sky was kind of the limit. But because she plays basketball she didn’t do any indoor track.”
The season figured and may still figure to be a good one.
Airline has won three straight District 1-5A boys titles. Benton has moved up to District 1-5A after winning eight straight District 1-4A girls championships and seven of the last eight boys.
The Parkway girls finished second in 1-5A last year and could contend for the title again.
For now, though, the tracks and jump pits and throwing areas remain empty.