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‘It was just celebrating baseball’: As coronavirus outbreak threatens high school sports, Skyridge hosted last-minute all-day affair

The Skyridge baseball team’s eight seniors gather for a photo on Saturday, March 14, 2020, at Skyridge High School in Lehi.
Courtesy Ryan Roberts

LEHI — If things turn out as the parties involved hope, the four games of rather impromptu baseball played Saturday at Skyridge High won’t end up being a whole lot more than some preseason, nonregion action.

But if the Utah High School Activities Association is forced to suspend games well beyond March 30, as is currently the plan in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, the contests played by five teams may well have served as the final time the seniors on those squads will suit up at the high school level.

The last-minute derby featuring the Falcons, Lone Peak Knights, Payson Lions, Salem Hills Skyhawks and Timpanogos T-Wolves came as a result of rain in St. George, where Skyridge and Timpanogos were supposed to open their 2020 campaigns over the weekend in the Red Rock Classic presented by the Marshall Gates Foundation.

Skyridge left for St. George on Thursday morning, the night after the NBA’s season was suspended when Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert tested positive for the coronavirus. As the bus journeyed south, head coach Ryan Roberts and others were learning via Twitter of cancellations taking place throughout the sports world.

Then, just before 2 p.m. Thursday, the UHSAA announced effective March 16, all activities statewide would be suspended for two weeks due to the COVID-19 outbreak, with schools having the option to suspend activities immediately.

That night, Skyridge’s junior varsity team played two games, but a deluge of rain prevented much of the tournament’s action from taking place. Knowing the Monday deadline to play was looming, players and coaches decided to leave St. George with the thought that Roberts could get some last-minute games scheduled back at home.

The team departed Friday, with Roberts working the phone trying to schedule games for Saturday at Skyridge. He said every coach he talked to wanted to play, although not all were authorized to commit given the circumstances.

By Friday night, Lone Peak, Payson, Salem Hills and Timpanogos were all on board to play Skyridge on Saturday, meaning the Falcons would be playing four games.

Roberts spent a few hours that night preparing the field at Skyridge, but it wasn’t until he got home that it dawned on him that the next day’s games could be the last for seniors, depending on how the coming weeks and months would unfold. At that point, the contests took on a bit of a different feeling for him.

“Our goal was to get up and get our first games of the year in and then also celebrate our (eight) seniors that we have and let them get that experience to play their final game and celebrate them,” Roberts said.

As one might expect, there was a different feeling at the ballpark Saturday, as there was an understanding that this would be the last baseball for a few weeks, if not longer.

“For the most part, it was just celebrating baseball,” Roberts said, adding that there wasn’t really much concern over which teams won or lost. “We kind of came together ... we were happy to see players get big hits and pitchers make pitches and be on the field together just playing, because we knew that the game would be taken away from us for a short period of time here.”

Although there wasn’t enough time to put together a traditional sendoff for Roberts’ seniors, Skyridge wore each of its four uniforms during the day — changing in between games — and seniors took pictures in each of the jerseys.

“It was really cool because it just showed why I love coaching and why I love coaching these high school kids,” said Roberts, who coached for over a decade at UVU and BYU before taking the Skyridge job. “They love the game so much and they want to be out on the field together with each other playing. It’s what they work all year for.”

Roberts credited the umpire crews who came at the last minute, and he joked that “I don’t know if anybody yelled at an umpire the whole day, which might be the first time in the history of Utah high school sports. We just played and it was really fun.”

Matt Marziale was one of the umpires at Skyridge on Saturday and covered the Falcons’ last game, which came against Payson.

“For the boys, there was a little bit of solemness to it,” Marziale said. “I think they knew that this is it for a while and this may be it (for the season). I think they all understood that very well.”

As things are constantly evolving with the pandemic, the idea that the season could be over is becoming even more real than it was on Saturday.

“I’m super grateful that we got to get at least some games in, but it’s tough,” said Falcons senior shortstop Kai Roberts, Ryan Roberts’ son. “We don’t get to play our region schedule or possibly even the state tournament. Hopefully we get to get some games in after a couple weeks, but you never know. That could’ve been the last time we stepped on that field at Skyridge.”

Timpanogos coach Kim Nelson, who has coached in the state for over 30 years and has won eight state championships, said he feels as though he’s seen just about everything over the course of his career, but canceling a season would be something he hasn’t experienced (there has never been a canceled season since high school baseball started in Utah in 1930, according to the UHSAA record book).

“I’m trying not to dwell on that very much right now,” he said. “I feel so bad for some senior kids. ... I’m sure there’s a lot of people feeling the same way, but it’s just personal for kids that you’ve ...

He paused to gather his emotions.

“Been with for quite a long time.”