Coaches use the “one-game season” cliché hoping to instill focus and urgency as they prepare their athletes for each contest.
The phrase has taken on a different meaning during the coronavirus pandemic. Fingers are crossed weekly for high school football programs in the area while they await clearance to play each one-game season.
Unfortunately for Lathrop High's varsity football team, one game is all it gets. Spartans players are currently in quarantine because of a positive test within the program that was revealed 4 ½ hours prior to kickoff last Friday against Beyer. It was supposed to be their Senior Night.
The timing of the test results also knocked Lathrop out of its season-finale set for this Friday at Johansen of Modesto. The two teams could have agreed to move the game back to Saturday, but it was deemed unsafe for the Spartans to return to action without practicing. April 17 is the last possible date for football games to take place, based on the recommendation of the California Interscholastic Federation's Sports Medicine Advisory committee.
“We basically knew there was not a chance for it to be rescheduled or anything like that,” Lathrop senior running back/linebacker Andrew Garcia said. “Right after getting that initial message, it was hours before the game, we were all pretty aggravated. It's frustrating to have almost our whole season stripped away. We got one game and that was it. It's pretty unfortunate.”
Lathrop also had to cancel its Week 2 game against Grace Davis because of a positive test, and with its following contest against Patterson scheduled for Thursday, April 1 the Spartans had to sit that one out as well. They even called off their preseason scrimmage against East Union. The junior varsity team has been more fortunate having had three games and going 2-1. The JV's game with East Union was canceled last Saturday but is still on for Friday at Escalon starting at 5.
“Mathematically, the way it went down we are just very unlucky,” Lathrop coach Joe Pirillo said. “The worst part is that it makes it look like we're doing something wrong at Lathrop.”
Pirillo added that enforcement of guidelines and protocols set by state and county health departments was “overemphasized” by the team in practice. Garcia vouches for his coaches.
“We've always been a rule-following team no matter the circumstance, even before COVID,” Garcia said. “Being a small team following the protocols, it's weird to me being one of the only ones getting shut down.”
The only other area programs to have games affected by COVID-19, so far, are Ripon and Weston Ranch — their varsity match-up on April 1 was canceled. Both teams got to play this past Saturday following their 10-day quarantine.
If there is one school in the Sac-Joaquin Section that can relate to Lathrop's misfortune it's Elk Grove, which has yet to have a game because of positive tests within its own program or opponents. There is still hope for the Thunder Herd to at least one game, as it's scheduled to play Cosumnes Oaks on Saturday.
Joey Sanchis, Lathrop's standout senior receiver/cornerback, is thankful to have at least had the one game even if it did end in defeat.
Lathrop faced rival Mountain House on Saturday, March 20 and lost, 22-15. The Spartans led 15-0 at halftime but struggled over the final two quarters as Garcia, arguably their most important two-way player, went down with a leg injury. Sanchis was on the receiving end of one of their touchdowns, adding a two-point conversation catch.
“I remember the day of the game thinking how crazy it was that we got to play that day, because I didn't think it was going to happen,” Sanchis said. “After getting that first kickoff return I really cherished that moment, but I didn't think that was going to be the first and last game.”
Considering the stop-and-start process of their entire senior campaign going back to summer workouts, Garcia and Sanchis are ready to move on. Both are looking forward to rejoining the track and field team after quarantine and life after high school. Garcia hopes to continue playing in college, while Sanchis has turned down offers from NCAA Division III schools to join the Navy.
“Not having those final moments with the team is probably one of the worst parts,” Sanchis said. “I've been playing football since the third grade, playing with these same dudes my whole life and we never got to say goodbye to each other or the field. I thought about it a lot that night and it just sat with me for a couple days.
“It has sucked seeing scores on Twitter from other games and seeing other people having their fun on Friday nights while knowing that could have been you,” Sanchis added.
Pirillo said he is planning to have that one final moment to give his seniors a proper sendoff, and he wants it done under the lights on a Friday night at Bennie Gatto Field since their only game of the season was on a Saturday afternoon. On April 23, at about 7:30 p.m., the Spartans will hold a short ceremony honoring their seniors.