Being over 330 miles from home, Baker School District Athletic Director Buell Gonzales Jr.’s day did not go according to plan.
Ready to watch the Baker girls basketball team make a run for its second straight state title, Gonzales, alongside coach Matt Sand, had to break bad news when they were en route to the gym.
Baker’s game wasn’t going to be played in front of empty bleachers.
The Bulldogs’ season was over because of a more daunting opponent than they could meet on the hardwood.
“That was crushing for them,” Gonzales said of the Baker girls, who were set to play on March 12. “It was one of the harder conversations I’ve ever been a part of as an educator.”
As he watched the news break about coronavirus, Gonzales was glued to its progression. When the Utah Jazz and Oklahoma City Thunder NBA game was postponed due to Utah center Rudy Gobert testing positive for the virus, Gonzales said it felt like the situation was destined to hit home.
“It seemed like the sports world started to fall apart at that point,” Gonzales said.
The very next day — March 12 — the Oregon School Activities Association announced the cancellation of all the remaining state basketball games, forcing the Bulldogs to come home.
The effects continued, as one day later Gov. Kate Brown announced that public schools would be closed until March 31, and the OSAA followed suit in banning spring sports games and practices.
When it came time to tell spring sports coaches, Gonzales knew that these coaches had to have been prepared.
“The information was out in front, it wasn’t a shock to anybody,” Gonzales said. “The coaches were super disappointed, as well as the kids.”
As the head of the athletic department, the safety of Baker’s student-athletes is his top priority. However, he does empathize with those who feel possibly cheated out of another season in their sport, especially Bulldogs who are set to graduate in a couple of months.
“The only thing that you can fashion this to is injury,” Gonzales said. “It’s the finality of it.”
As the number of cases continued to rise, Brown extended the school closure to April 28, and the OSAA did the same.
That eliminates most of the spring sports schedules for Baker baseball, softball, track, golf and tennis.
However, the season is still not lost, as OSAA officials hope to bring back sports by late April. Gonzales is ready to work with other schools to make the proper modifications to get the most out of the remaining schedules if possible.
“As a league we are moving forward with creating league schedules,” Gonzales said of the Greater Oregon League, which includes Baker, La Grande, Ontario and Mac-Hi. “It would start with a week or two of practices, and then go right into league play.”
As the spring season continues to loom with uncertainty, Gonzales hopes Baker’s student-athletes take what their sport has taught them in the Baker community and translate it into fighting this pandemic.
“You can do it by being patient, listening to other people and helping out your community when you can,” Gonzales said. “Now is the time to step up and continue that mantra.”