March 12 is a day that will go down in sports history. That day that U.S. sports came to a screeching halt, canceling or suspending all competition nationwide due to coronavirus concerns.
For Oklahoma State softball coach Kenny Gajewski, what was once a minor issue had become ever so real.
“I’ll be very honest, I didn't think this was that big of a deal,” Gajewski said. “I’m a person that thinks that the United States is bulletproof. I was like `This won’t hit us hard here.’ I’m embarrassed to tell you that, but that’s who I am, I’m honest. I am very clear now that this is very serious. It’s been a wakeup call for me in perspective, and for our student-athletes and everybody around us."
As professional leagues and college conferences across the nation canceled or suspended operations, Gajewski awaited the call on the Big 12 and his OSU softball program.
He was informed by OSU administration that the Big 12 would be suspending athletics until March 29, but when the NCAA announced that it would be canceling spring sports he learned the same way everyone else did — Twitter.
“Within an hour (of the Big 12 suspending athletics) we all saw the tweet. I cannot believe that that’s how we found out, but that’s our world now,” Gajewski said.
While there were varying opinions as to whether or not canceling spring sports was the right decision, Gajewski had his take.
“Selfishly yeah I think (canceling spring sports) is nuts, but that's just because I want to play softball,” Gajewski said.
When the NCAA announced that the spring sports were canceled the first thing that came to people’s minds was shock of such a large decision. Then came the practical issues that would come with it.
For OSU softball it looked as though seniors Logan Simunek, Carrie Eberle, Sydney Springfield, Shalee Brantley and Alysen Febrey’s careers may come to an abrupt end. One that could not have been foreseen just a week prior.
“When I had to look those seniors in their eyes last night and tell them (their season’s might be over), that’s as hard as anything I’ve had to do (as a coach),” Gajewski said.
But the NCAA acted quickly in response to the concerns that seniors across the country may have their careers cut short. The announcement was made at 1:30 p.m. on March 13 that eligibility relief would be granted to all spring sports athletes.
While the details are not finalized, this was a decision that Gajewksi said needed to come quickly, but one that doesn’t come without concerns.
“I think it’s the right thing,” Gajewski said. “I was worried that this was going to take a long time to work through, but if we’re really worried about student-athlete welfare and mental health (the NCAA) needed to act fast, and I commend them for acting fast. I’m thankful that I’m at a school like OSU that’s gonna be able to absorb those scholarships, (but) I got a feeling that there are schools out there that won’t be able to”
As the dust of such a consequential 48 hours settles, Gajewski took a step back and looked at the world beyond the sports bubble.
“It’s a crazy situation that definitely has our attention,” Gajewski said. “We haven’t seen this in our society in the last few years. It’s bigger than sports, unfortunately, and it's got our attention and we need to handle it so we can get the United States of America back to their normal life.”
“Maybe this will help all of us put things into perspective, and refocus on the things that are important and the things that we need to continue to get better at. That goes for all of us.”