The Donovan Catholic softball team had seven seniors returning from a 30-2 team that won the 2019 Tournament Champions.

After paying his dues for three years, Red Bank Catholic senior Tyler Birnbaum was ready to show the baseball team he could be a front line pitcher this season.

These were just a few of the countless students who didn’t get the opportunity to round out their high school sports careers with a final spring season due to the coronavirus shutdown.

“It felt like a punch in the face,” Birnbaum said. “Ever since I could walk, I just kind of fell in the love with the sport at a young age.”

Unlike six other classmates who will play in college, this was Birnbaum’s last shot at scholastic sports – although he may try and play intramurals at West Virginia University.

“It definitely hurts,” he said. “A bunch of my teammates are going on to play college ball. I was looking forward to having one last chance to just prove what I had and leave it all out there.”

Donovan Catholic leftfielder Kait Wioland also planned on going away to school and figured this was her last year of scholastic softball – until the high school spring sports season was canceled.

“When I first found out I started to cry,” Wioland said. “It was so devastating to see how much we’ve accomplished in the past three years. It was really upsetting this year that the seniors and everyone else on the team couldn’t prove that we could stay at the top spot. I had a good feeling.”

Now, Wioland has decided to play for Ocean County College in Toms River. She credited her faith as a reason for that opportunity.

“Throughout the whole quarantine, I’ve been saying prayers to God just hoping to get one last chance on the field,” said Wioland, who attends St. Joseph Parish, Toms River. Then, she got a text from the OCC coach. “She was offering me a spot, and she wants me to play for her. I honestly felt very blessed.”

Birnbaum credited his Catholic education for helping him through his senior year during a pandemic.

“Yeah, 100 percent,” said Birnbaum, who attends St. Jerome Church, a worship site of Our Lady of Hope Parish, West Long Branch. “Going to a Catholic school, you worship, and with all this happening, it just kind of makes me know … God has a plan.”

Caseys baseball coach Buddy Hausmann feels turning to faith is an absolute necessity to get through such disappointment.

“I think that’s just as important as anything,” Hausmann said. “You need to be able to believe in something. Things happen for a reason, we all know that, both good and bad. You need to kind of learn from this. It’s an out-of-your-hands situation. You need to become a better person from this.”

Griffins softball coach Debbie Schwartz feels that the Catholic faith was a huge factor in helping seniors deal with their loss.

“I think their trust in God definitely helped them persevere. It’s a chapter closed, a new one opening,” Schwartz said, crediting their Catholic education with giving the students some understanding and acceptance of God’s will.

While Schwartz was saddened not to coach this season’s team, she was more upset at missing the culmination of her seniors’ careers.

“Just the fact they’re not having the time on the field with their friends and not having closure,” Schwartz said. “Four years at Donovan Catholic High School, and now they don’t have their turn to lead a team. The things that I look at as a coach is watching them grow as leaders in our program and seeing what they’re capable of doing with the team. I give the seniors a lot of control in terms of leadership. That’s the thing I miss the most, seeing them grow and develop that way.”

Wioland missed showing her coach and teammates how far she has come as a leader. 

“I’ve grown up looking up to some of the seniors as role models,” she said, expressing regret that she could not pay it forward by being a role model to a younger student.

Schwartz called each player individually after the shutdown was finalized, but felt it was not the same as speaking in person. She is hoping to celebrate their careers in some manner but is still working out the plans.

Hausmann stayed in touch through texts and did not have many group chats “because I didn’t want to go on there and give them false hope, because I didn’t have the answers.” However, he saw each senior face to face when he dropped graduation signs off at their homes.

“I just really feel for these kids,” he said.