What I Told My Team

By Michele Dombrowski, Head Coach, Sewanee: University of the South  @SewaneeWLax

I was a four-sport athlete for my freshman and senior years of college. When my field hockey season ended, in strokes, during a snowstorm in the National Tournament, I cried. When my basketball season ended with (if my memory is correct) a blow-out loss in the NCAA tournament to a team we had previously beaten, I cried. When my track season ended (not at Nationals because we were a club sport), I cried.

       Photo by Abbey Adams, Sewanee Athletic Communications

But oh my… when my lacrosse season ended in the NCAA Semifinals, I bawled. Full on ugly cry. If I think about it, I kind of regret not having a single picture with even a slight smile from after the game. After all, we accomplished A LOT, and being one of the last four standing was a big deal. I’m pretty sure the other two players that went up to get the trophy for the team with me didn’t quite know how to handle bawling Michele, especially as people took pictures. Thankfully, this was before you needed thirty pictures (one for every iPhone).

It wasn’t that lacrosse was my favorite that made that ending so much harder. The reality was my favorite was usually whichever I was doing at the moment. It was simply the fact that IT WAS ALL OVER. When field hockey ended, I had three more seasons. When basketball ended, I had two. You can finish the countdown. But when lacrosse ended, I was staring at zero.

I knew my college athletic involvement wasn’t over. I knew I was going to be coaching. I knew I would still experience the joys of competition, the thrill of seeing daily improvements, the pride in seeing someone do something better than before.

Random thought:  I now chew on pen caps instead of my mouth guard … just realized that “thinking while chewing thing“ has been going on for a REALLY long time. Hmm.

I live for little moments of success, and even the temporary failure when trying something new. I still jump and dance and fist-pump for moments big and small. Game day is still the best day, and not just because we get to wear our “game day shoes.”

Game day is the test we LIKE to take.

Some are quizzes, some are mid-terms, some are finals, and some are comps (it’s a Sewanee thing). But, regardless of the opponent, every game (and yes, I know, every practice) is a chance. An opportunity.

In my case, and for the vast majority of athletes, you know when the end is coming.  Maybe we should have realized it was coming. But there was no lightbulb moment, no feeling we needed to make a quick senior game, no last team picture.

When we sent the team home for spring break, the thought of what transpired in the next 48 hours was impossible. And like I regret not having that picture of me smiling holding that semifinal trophy, I regret not having our last cheer, last team hug, and ending with REAL good-byes. But I know and can feel those moments like they should have happened.

I know we all feel like a part of us died. And, yes, I know there are way worse things that will happen in my life and in theirs. But, for now, even if I were curling my toes in the sand on my favorite beach, enjoying the sunshine is REALLY hard right now. There is grief and likely guilt for feeling grief when so much could be worse. But for now, that is where we sit. Years later, I look at those pictures holding the trophy and I can smile at that ending. I can smile knowing what we gave and what we gained in that season. Years from now, we as coaches, and our players as athletes, will find a reason to smile over this season. For my team, I imagine those memories will involve a song or dance. So, I’m going to crank the music in honor of them. And I look forward to telling them all in person, that regardless of how much or how little we played this season, the true joy has been being with them.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This entry was adapted from a note the author attached to the email she sent to her team and their families informing them their season had ended due to COVID-19.  The players were already away from campus for Spring Break when the decision was made.

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