The Central Ozark Conference will hold a special event on Monday, June 29, for its 2019-2020 senior athletes who saw their spring seasons taken away due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Billed as the COC Spring Sports Senior Games, the one-day event will include a boys tennis tournament at Republic High School and a boys golf tournament at Carthage Golf Course starting at 9 a.m., a baseball double-header at Webb City starting at 5 p.m., and a girls soccer game at Joplin High School at 6 p.m.
The event was organized by various COC athletic directors and coaches in an effort to provide the conference’s seniors an opportunity to compete for their high school teams for a final time, according to Nixa athletic director and COC liaison Brandon Clark.
“With spring sports being cancelled, it was something that the athletic directors sort of brought up as an option,” Clark said. “I tried to put myself in the shoes of a senior who got their spring season taken away from them and how they’re feeling. The stats in general say that less than 3 or 4 percent of all high school students go on to play in college. So for a lot of these seniors, they’re done and have lost everything. Our goal now is to give them one more opportunity to go out and compete for their school or for their team and kind of put a cap on it.”
The COC also planned to hold a track and field meet but couldn’t field enough interested seniors to make the meet viable.
About 100 senior athletes planned to compete among the other four sports as of Thursday, Clark estimated.
“For soccer, I want to say we have over 30 seniors who plan to compete,” Clark said. “Golf is a little bit smaller — I want to say we have six seniors who are participating in that one. Then there are between 30 and 40 who want to participate in tennis and more than 40 who want to participate for baseball.”
Participating athletes will be divided up into teams in both baseball and soccer. Members of the same school will be assigned to the same team.
“For soccer, the coaches of the conference are working together to divide interested senior girls into two teams, and those two teams will play against each other,” Joplin athletic director Matt Hiatt said. “The point of the whole thing is that we think it’s important, as a conference, to come together and do what we can to give our spring sports seniors one last chance to compete in high school.”
Seniors in the baseball twinbill will be divided up into East and West teams, per Webb City baseball coach Flave Darnell.
“It’s unfortunate these guys lost their last high school baseball season, and this is just a way for us to honor them and some coaches also,” Darnell said. “For some of the coaches, it was supposed to be their last season — like Mike Essick (Ozark), Mike Godrey over at Carthage and Brandon McGinnis, pitching coach over at Branson. So it’s kind of nice to get everyone together. The COC is a such a talented baseball conference, and it’s going to be fun to have all of the seniors on the field and see them play one last time in their school uniforms.”
An individual tournament will be held for tennis with singles and doubles play, while the golf tournament will be 18 holes of stroke play.
Clark said no structured practices will be held prior to the event’s start due to limitations and restrictions from the ongoing pandemic.
“Unfortunately, with all the COVID-19 restrictions and things like that, most of the schools are just now getting back into the swing of it,” he said. “And we were concerned that if we pushed the event to July, we would probably lose participation. So there won’t be any structured practicing for these athletes before Monday, but we’re hoping it will be more of a fun event that highlights the talent and hard work that many of these athletes have put in for their schools for years.”