The Michigan High School Athletic Association’s decision to suspend all athletic activities indefinitely amid the coronavirus pandemic sent shockwaves throughout the state.
For many athletes in the midst of the postseason of their respective sports, dreams of competing for a state championship were dashed in an instant. But for local seniors like Michigan Lutheran girls basketball standout Mara Rugen and Benton Harbor boys basketball star Carlos “Scooby” Johnson, whose teams were in championship runs, the suspension of tournament play likely means they have played their last games.
There is no next time.
Rugen scored 18 points to propel Michigan Lutheran to a 54-20 win over Fruitport Calvary Christian in a Division 4 regional semifinal game last Tuesday. The 22-1 Titans were to play Martin on March 12 in the regional final and organized a pep rally at school that day for the occasion.
That’s when Rugen and her teammates received word that the tournament had been suspended.
“It was really sad,” Rugen said. “We were excited to play for a regional title. We were mentally prepared to play. So when we received the news, it was pretty disappointing.”
Like Rugen, Johnson was surprised by the news. The Mr. Basketball candidate helped lead the Tigers – ranked No. 1 in the latest Associated Press Division 2 poll – to a 20-2 record and a district title tilt against Coloma.
“We were at school,” Johnson said. “It was almost time for practice. Coach (Corey) Sterling sent a text that said all activities are canceled until further notice. It took the wind right out of us and it took some time to recover.”
As captains of their respective teams, Rugen and Johnson did their best to keep their team’s spirits up following the news.
“That day was a downer,” Rugen said. “We had a practice that day and the tone was different. But there was a chance we could play again, so we wanted to be prepared both mentally and physically.”
“We looked at it as a blessing from God,” Johnson said. “Maybe we needed this rest; it helped me with my shoulder injury. Hopefully, we’re able to rest up and get to continue the journey soon.”
In Rugen’s four years as a varsity player, the Titans have won four district championships. Those victories are the moments Rugen will remember the most.
“The feeling of winning districts is great,” Rugen said. It’s a really special moment. We’ve never made it past the first round of regionals, so being able to accomplish that was this year was special because we worked hard for it.”
Johnson won a state championship as a sophomore and had the Tigers in position to potentially win one this year. But winning a title isn’t what Johnson will look back on as one of his favorite prep moments.
“Going against all my AAU buddies during the season was fun,” Johnson said. “I enjoyed spending time with my coaches and those long bus rides with my teammates. Suiting up in the orange and black for the community every game was a blessing. Playing in front of my community and being an example for the youth was always important to me.”
With the coronavirus situation changing by the hour, there’s no telling when high school sports will return to Michigan. While most athletes understand the decision was made with the best interests of everyone in mind, it doesn’t make the disappointment of not being able to participate in at least one more event with teammates and coaches go away.
“It’s frustrating,” Rugen said. “We’ve worked so hard to reach this point. Not knowing what is happening is hard; It’s hard having a chance to play again taken away from you. We’re praying for regionals and states to continue.”