Student Story: With Loss of High School Spring Sports Season, Optimism and Hope Stay With Athletes and Coaches

By: Thomas E. Edmund, Jr.Gateway Regional High School

WOODBURY HEIGHTS, N.J. — As the world continues to grapple with this global pandemic, the community of students and staff at Gateway Regional High School have taken a more aggressive approach to address the issue and view the “bigger picture.” 

Mr. Michael DiCicco, Director of Athletics and Student Activities at GRHS, said he is very hopeful that his athletes can soon return to the fields, taking all things into keen consideration.

“It is extremely disappointing that our students, who have worked so hard throughout the offseason to prepare for the upcoming year, have not had the opportunity to play,” DiCicco said. “I feel really bad for all of our athletes, and the seniors in particular. Although I feel that it is becoming less and less likely as the pandemic worsens, I am hopeful that we will play an abbreviated season.” 

DiCicco noted that the student athletes have been in close contact with their respective coaches, just as if it was a regular season on the athletic fields.

Moving forward, DiCicco suggests for students to keep things in perspective. Beyond playing sports and winning championships, he states that the teachers at Gateway have worked extremely hard to maintain a wholesome education for students, which is more significant than athletics. 

Photo credit: GRHS girls softball Instagram page.

Whether on the pitcher’s mound or between the goalie nets on the soccer field, Mrs. JoAnn Hanson has been coaching student athletes for more than 20 years and is “totally disappointed” for her “Lady Gators” not being able to get the chance to play. Hanson stated that due to an unconventional winter season, the girls, co-coach, Mrs. Peggyann Coker, and herself took full advantage and were able to hold try-outs in the above-average weather in early March. The 2019-20 spring season, according to Hanson, showed more promise than previous years, with 13 freshman players demonstrating a wide range of skills and positive attitudes. 

“We have gotten updates from the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association every few days,” Hanson said. “But like every part of our lives, it’s day by day; no one knows how all of this will play out.”

Hanson said that the latest statement gave her the idea that they were not giving up as of yet. 

“I am trying to stay at least 50% positive, even if we just have the opportunity to play a few games to see our team’s competitive spirit,” she said. “As coaches, we were very excited to go into this season with depth in the pitching position with a versatile group of students who have the ability to assume multiple team roles and challenge themselves. We hope to be on the field this season, but if not, the 2021 season, we will take the field.”

Since most of the sports teams at Gateway stay connected through social media, like Twitter and Instagram, the softball coaches have been trying to post positive, uplifting messages for the players during this trying time filled with uncertainty. Hanson regrets not having the chance to take more photos of her team before quarantine.

Similar to DiCicco, Hanson, and Coker, both share sentiments that education is paramount compared to athletics. Hanson strongly believes that the students are at home right now, dedicated to virtual learning and aiming to pursue careers in the ever-changing workforce. Athletics is not always about winning awards. The philosophy held by the softball coaches is simple: “focus everyday, be prepared, and have confidence” and is especially crucial to remember in 2020. The team has faced challenges, as everyone has, but the key is to never give up and persevere through adversity.

Hanson also mentioned that fun times such as laughing, dancing, and singing with her students, that would have been in celebration with their peers, and missing out on this season to play but they will forever remain “Gator Strong.”

Eric Smith, a senior at Gateway, found that he was more motivated to succeed in track and field this season than in years past. His determination made circumstances so much worse when sports were cancelled. Smith even finds it difficult to train because it is hard to anticipate what he said he should be doing. He remains active in his neighborhood as he runs with some friends (staying 6-feet apart). Aside from schoolwork and running, Smith finds himself practicing the guitar, watching movies, playing Wii Sports, connecting with friends via social media, and working in his at-home woodshop.

Although the 2020 sports season is over, the ADs, coaches, and athletes said they know that they will come back stronger and more eager to win.  

Thomas E. Edmund, Jr., “TJ”, is a senior at Gateway Regional High School in Woodbury Heights, NJ and an intern at After graduation, he will be attending Rowan College of Southern New Jersey to begin his quest to become a journalist. 

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