Coronavirus pandemic leaves high school athletes in limbo


Viera catcher Alan Espinal said the decision to suspend the season because of the coronavirus pandemic has left him feeling sad. The senior had been working out every day during the break and hoping he could play at least one more game with his team.

Carl Kotala

Viera High School’s Davis Mallinger was enjoying an incredible track season and gearing up for spring football.

Claire Jackering and her Holy Trinity softball teammates were off to the best start in program history.

And Viera’s Karyana Mitchell, Alan Espinal and Brianna Staerk were all dreaming of getting back to the playoffs in their respective sports.

But that’s all on hold now.

With Florida schools closed to students until at least April 15 due to the coronavirus pandemic, high school sports have been suspended and players have been left in limbo, wondering if they will play anymore games.

“I understand the magnitude of the issue our country is facing, but honestly, I’m pretty mad about it,” Mallinger said. “Maybe a little selfish, but my track season was off to a pretty good start.”

In fact, Mallinger can lay claim to being Brevard County’s fastest man, boasting the top times in the 100 meters (10.54), 200 meters (a school record 21.57) and 400 meters (49.72).

Without access to the school weight room, or his local gym, the junior has been working out in his garage and working with his AAU track coach, Tyrone Giscombe, three or four times a week.

Jackering is doing some work in her garage, too, hitting off a tee.

“I’m doing what I can, with what I have,” she said.

Holy Trinity’s softball team was off to a 9-1 start and not only looking to win a district championship, but possibly make a long postseason run after dropping from Class 5A to Class 2A.

“It was the best start of a season we’ve ever had,” Jackering said of receiving the news her season had been suspended. “It was kind of disappointing not knowing how it would end up. … We had high hopes for the end of the season. Now, we don’t really know.”

Mitchell, a senior, led Viera’s softball team to the state final four two years ago. Last year, the Hawks reached the regional final. This was supposed to be the year they won it all.

“Truthfully, I did not comprehend that the game against Bayside (on March 12) could have been my last game of the season,” Mitchell said. “I thought I would be back at it for practice that next Monday, returning to my normal routine. 

“The interruption of the season definitely hit me all at once and made me realize that you can never take the moments on the field with your team for granted because in the blink of an eye, it could be over.”

Mitchell said Viera coach Alex Breeden’s message was simple:

“Our coach’s message to me was to keep working and control what I could control. She told all of us to keep our heads high and have a glimmer of hope that we can continue to do what we do best,” Mitchell said.

She has been running in the morning, lifting weights and pitching to her father in their backyard.

Espinal, one of 11 seniors on this year’s Viera baseball team, said he and teammates Ethan Huffman and Liam Samuels have been hitting the field every day. Last year’s team reached the regional final and was hoping to get to the final four.

“This senior year is something I would never get to experience ever in my life with this group of guys,” Espinal said. “They’ve been absolutely family to me and my brother (Edian) and this troubles me because I have such a strong bond with them and this is all going away. We didn’t even get to finish our season.”

Staerk, whose Viera girls lacrosse team has won three consecutive district titles, said her teammates were upset when their season was suspended, particularly seniors Tristen Chang, Maddy Murawski and Gabrielle Echevarria.

‘If we are going back (after) April 15, my mom (Coach Alison Staerk) said we might be able to push back some of the games and still be able to play them,” Brianna Staerk said.

In the meantime, she has been going to a field near her boyfriend’s house to try to get some work in, though he is not a lacrosse player.

“He throws the ball over my head a lot,” Brianna Staerk said. “I have to run to go get it.”

With district playoffs originally scheduled to start in mid-April, there’s a chance spring sports can be saved if students return to school on April 16. And with spring football not even set to begin until April 27, there’s hope for that, too.

That’s something everyone involved in high school sports would really like to see happen. 

“Day in and day out, I’ve been thinking about if we are going to get back out there and put on that Viera uniform again,” Espinal said. “I just ask for one more game, one more game with my brothers.”