THOMASTON — Spring is always a great time of year. This time, for athletes and coaches across the state, it’s euphoric.
Unlike the winter sports whose state tournaments were stopped mid-flow by Covid-19 a year ago, spring athletes didn’t get to play at all.
So, when Thomaston and Holy Cross softball teams got together for a scrimmage on a beautiful spring day Tuesday, fans lined the banks at Thomaston High School and the kids acted like they used to when they were let out of school instead of being allowed in.
“We look like we’re excited to be back on the field,” grinned Crusader coach Meg Dwyer when asked for an appraisal of the Crusaders. “Teams really appreciate it this year, knowing this could be taken away.”
Both teams have storied Class S softball programs. Holy Cross, from the NVL, won three straight state championships from 2015 through 2017. Thomaston, from the Berkshire League, was state champion in 2014 and runner-up to the Crusaders in 2015.
Nevertheless, the same Covid relief that infects the kids washes across the coaches as well in Tuesday’s sunshine, no matter what the on-field prospects.
“It’s like starting from scratch to rebuild the program and our expectations,” says Thomaston coach Kelly Finlay, despite the fact that all but three of her starters return from two years ago.
Dwyer’s Crusaders are on the other side of those numbers with just three returning players with varsity experience, but still says, “You have that clean slate. It’s exciting.”
“Everybody’s in the same boat,” says Finlay, pausing to remember Northwestern, Nonnewaug, Wamogo and Shepaug as strong BL programs two years ago, but who knows after a missing year?
In the NVL, Seymour, with eight Class M and L state championships and four runner-up spots in the last 20 years, is always there, but Dwyer cites Woodland, Wolcott, Naugatuck and Oxford as other likely powers this season.
And, for once in what seems like a very long time, it’s set to feel like a real sports season. State tournaments are back for the first time since that curtailed winter spectacle a year ago. Masks are no longer required for players on the field except for catchers.
Even an umpire rule forbidding officials from touching the ball seems more like a lingering Covid quirk than a real inconvenience.
At last we can hear the cry, “Play ball!”