Michigan softball coach Carol Hutchins had to process the mind-blowing news that the Big Ten and Michigan had suspended all athletics on Thursday, then find a way to tell her players.
Hutchins is in her 36th season as head coach, and nothing had prepared her for what she described as incredibly emotional, especially for her four seniors.
“It’s the worst day of every coach’s career in the country right now to walk in the dugout and tell my kids what I told them today,” Hutchins said Thursday night in a telephone interview. “It took me a while to get up so I didn’t totally break down.
“This is unfathomable. I could have never fathomed this.”
Michigan announced all athletics activities, including practices, would be suspended effective immediately. Michigan football’s spring practice, scheduled to begin next week, also has been suspended. But this hits the the baseball and softball teams, considering that their regular seasons extend into May, and the postseason lasts into June. The Big Ten earlier on Thursday canceled the Big Ten men’s basketball tournament in response to growing concerns regarding the COVID-19 — coronavirus — pandemic.
Hutchins was asked how her players responded to the news that came two days before they were to open their home schedule.
“Just like you would think — they were devastated. Seniors just melted,” Hutchins said, sounding emotional. “It’s hard. It’s disbelief. It’s like the day of the death when you’re just shocked. It’s just grief. Everybody has a little bit different style of it, and in a day or two it’s going to be the new normal, but it’s hard.”
She was reminded of having to tell her players of the terrorist attacks in the U.S. on Sept. 11, 2001, and helping them cope with that tragedy as a nation grieved.
“It was terrifying, and it was so uncertain, but the difference being, in 9-11 we were able to pull together,” Hutchins said. “We were there to hug our kids and be with our kids. And now with this, we’re trying to social distance everything, and that’s my biggest concern. I know why we do it, but these kids, they’ve never needed all their people more.”
On Wednesday, Michigan announced the spring sports would play on but with limited personnel and crowds that would only include family.That all changed a day later, and there still are a number of questions the players need answered. Hutchins told them this will take some time. She said they’ve asked if they should go home, should they stay, can they work out, and can they still draw their scholarship checks.
“I told my kids we don’t know one answer, but you have to understand that it’s going to take a few days,” she said. “Nobody could be prepared for this. Just trust you will be taken care of.”
Hutchins will meet with her team again on Friday.
“We have to be around our kids again,” she said. “Just urge them to be precautionary. I really just urged my kids to not judge this. I said we can’t judge this, this is about humanity. Our duty is always to take care of humanity. It’s hard. They’re younger, but this is what you learn in life. It is life.
“I tell them all the time, life is not fair, and life is not fair (right now) you guys, but this is life. These are the cards we’re dealt, and you have no choice but to deal with it. There is no choice. You can cry, you can mope, you certainly need to grieve, but these are the cards we’re dealt. As a coach, I’m like how are we going to deal with it? I want to make a plan.”
Hutchins has heeded her own advice and knows these decisions cannot be judged, only accepted.
“The intent is absolutely right on,” Hutchins said. “There is a crisis in the world, and we cannot just say, ‘Yeah but this is athletics and we’re important.’ No, we’re not. This is more important. It’s about humanity. It’s bigger than all of us and we all have to understand our place in the world, and our place in the universe is actually pretty small. As big as it seems to me and to all my kids and to all those lacrosse kids and the basketball players on their way home, this is a small piece of life.”