Andrew McKague should have just returned from a weeklong baseball tournament in Arizona. A trip McKague and the rest of his Redmond High School baseball teammates had been waiting for since their freshman year.
But the coronavirus pandemic put an end to that. Earlier this month, the Oregon School Activities Association suspended all spring sports until April 28, cutting seasons in half.
So instead of spending spring afternoons practicing and competing on the ballfield with his teammates, McKague is spending his time trying to keep busy while the season is on hold.
“Not doing too much with baseball because the facilities are closed,” McKague said. “I’m just trying to stay in shape physically, so when we do go again, I’m not out of shape.”
To do that, he’s turned to another sport — football. McKague spends several days a week at the Elton Gregory Middle School football field, practicing his punting skills to prepare for his college football career next fall.
McKague is signed on to punt for The College of Idaho, a National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics school in Caldwell, Idaho. Even though the campus has closed and all classes are online , it is still operating as if the season will start on time, McKague said.
“It’s nice to know where you are going,” the Redmond senior said. “Knowing where you are going is a huge relief in this situation.”
A missed spring season, or even a condensed season, would be a blow to athletes with aspirations of competing in spring sports in college, right?
Little recruiting stock is put into the high school season, said Ridgeview High School girls softball coach Sandy Fischer, who spent nearly a quarter century on the recruiting trails as the head softball coach at Oklahoma State University.
She said that about 10% to 15% of the recruiting took place during the spring and that it was a better use of the recruiting budget and time to hit the recruiting trail at the summer tournaments, rather than a midweek high school game.
Those summer tournaments, she said, allow for coaches to watch multiple games in a short period. It also provides college coaches a more precise look at a prospect playing the position where they are most likely to play because the talent level is more condensed than a high school game, Fischer said.
“The summer season is where the majority of coaches (do their recruiting),” said Fischer. “Because they get a bigger bang for their buck. Most of the summer teams are made up of highly selective players. Summer ball, they will be in their right position.”
Chances are that athletes playing in their senior season are not going to be offered a scholarship by a Division-I program during their final spring season. It is more likely the lower-level schools will come with an offer to help round out a recruiting class.
“We are still recruiting seniors. It’s not as rare for us to have a senior commit to us in April or May,” said Linfield College assistant baseball coach Brian Valentine, who has a heavy hand in the Division-III program’s recruiting operations.
But even at smaller programs like Linfield, recruiting during the school season is mostly limited to taking in games at the local high school in McMinnville or hosting spring break tournaments to target potential prospects.
“There is not a ton of overnight recruiting trips,” Valentine said. “It’s still more geared towards the summer.”
With games on hold, programs are having to be creative with their player evaluations.
Relying on videos of workouts and the relationships built with high school coaches has become more critical without contests being played. For sports like track and field, that is all that is really needed.
“Our sport is 100% objective,” said Summit High School track and field coach Dave Turnbull. “If (high school athletes) have the grades and they have the times, then they are going to get the scholarship.”
Turnbull said that most of his senior athletes with college aspirations have already made their commitments to programs or have already narrowed down their choices to several programs.
A high school coach can call up a college coach and say this athlete ran this time, jumped this far or threw this distance without having to compete in a typical track meet.
For athletes that are “late bloomers” or had injuries in previous seasons, the contacts built with college programs become even more essential.
“We’ve been blessed with great relationships with colleges,” Turnbull said. “If I make a phone call to a college. A phone call will come back.”