Over the past couple of weeks, Gatorade announced its baseball and softball players of the year for the state of West Virginia, going with Hurricane’s Austin Dearing and Herbert Hoover’s Delani Buckner, respectively.
Those awards led to immediate spikes in my email box and my call log.
The gist of those communication attempts was asking if — and in some cases when — the Kanawha Valley and All-State lists would be coming out.
My response is quite simple and unapologetically blunt — they won’t be, not if I have anything to say about it. And as the Gazette-Mail’s softball writer and the All-State committee’s chairman, I do.
There are more factors involved with the Gatorade awards than in our awards. Gatorade takes into account performance in the classroom as well as community service, and looked at past performances and results from their club teams to factor in on-field play. Our awards are based solely on what happens on the field in high school contests. And quite frankly and rather unfortunately, nothing happened on the field this spring.
Let me be clear about this — my sentiments and thoughts are in no way meant as a slight to either Dearing or Buckner. I met and interviewed Dearing once at his college signing ceremony and he seemed like a great kid. I’ve talked to Buckner as much as any athlete in the Kanawha Valley over the last three years and I know that she is a great kid. Obviously, both are tremendous athletes as well.
I can’t speak as much for baseball, but in softball, if a short list had been made before the season of players statewide that I thought would be favorites to win the Kanawha Valley or state softball player of the year award, Buckner’s would have been on the very top. She split both awards a year ago with Caiti Mathes, who has now graduated from Hurricane and gone on to Marshall, and Buckner also won the Gatorade award as a sophomore two years ago.
But I can tell you that if you’ve never had to select award winners or all-Kanawha Valley/All-State players, it is among the most difficult things I do in this job. And there are always surprises.
If we had done either of those lists with no softball having been played, it would have been a case of honoring one kid while dishonoring several more. Because while Buckner may have been the front-runner for such awards, it’s never a slam dunk — not in the preseason.
Players like St. Albans’ Brianna McCown, Hurricane’s Harlie Vannatter, Petersburg’s Carly Cooper, Parkersburg’s Emily Allen and so many more all had realistic chances of turning in the type of season that would have put them in the thick of any award discussion.
Agree or not, much of the individual state player of the year awards in any sport also leans a bit on team success.
And while the Huskies had won three straight Class AA titles coming into the year and were likely the favorites to win a fourth, again, it was no guarantee. Petersburg, Nitro, Shady Spring and maybe even Sissonville had teams I thought had legitimate shots of making a run and I’m sure there are a handful of others I’m forgetting or didn’t know about.
The unknown also makes these awards impossible. For instance, a year ago, the Kanawha Valley produced a tremendous freshman class with three ninth graders making the All-KV first team and another three finding spots on the second team. Before the year started, I had no idea who Lena Elkins (Nitro), Abby Darnley (Buffalo), Madison Legg (Sissonville) or Emily Ross (South Charleston) were.
But they earned their way onto those teams with what they — as well as Winfield’s Kennedy Dean and Hoover’s Grayson Buckner — were able to do on the field.
It truly is a shame that none of these athletes — in baseball, softball, tennis or track — were given the opportunity to perform this year. I think we all wish we could give them something, something that would allow them to experience all that they were denied by the coronavirus pandemic.
I think what we’d like to give them is time, a feat that’s obviously impossible.
But what I feel is also impossible is to give awards for a season that never happened.