Banks County senior tennis player Jill Martinet has used the cancellation of the spring sports season to take a step back before going to college — and develop a new hobby. 

Normally, Banks County’s Jill Martinet would be gearing up for the high school tennis postseason.

But now, she’s holding a drill instead of a racket.

“I’ve started building stuff around the house,” the Leopard senior said.

Banks County High School spring sports seniors have handled the downtime with the COVID-19 quarantine differently. Martinet, for one, has discovered a new hobby in wood working. She said she began about a week into the shutdown of athletics and has built a table and is helping work on a new dock.

“I was like, ‘Mom, give me something to do,’” Martinet said.

Martinet is just one of many Banks County seniors navigating the final months of high school without sports.

The seasons — and careers — of Banks County’s spring athletes ended over a month ago when high school athletics where suspended in mid-March, then ultimately cancelled, in response to the spread of COVID-19, which has infected over 700,000 people in the U.S.

Gov. Brian Kemp closed schools for the remainder of the year on April 1 and the GHSA followed suit on April 2 with the cancellation of the rest of the sports calendar.

Martinet said she was taken aback by the turn of events.

“I was pretty shocked when they actually ended things all together,” she said.

Martinet had thought the tennis season might resume in an abbreviated form, but none of that was to be after fate of spring sports were sealed in early April.

“When they decided to cut everything off, I was definitely thrown off,” Martinet said.

Here are the thoughts of some other Banks County High School spring sports seniors coping with their seasons being cut short:

‘We actually thought we were going to go pretty far’

If there was a team that didn’t want to stop playing, it was Banks County’s baseball team.

The Leopards, with a 12-4 record, had reeled off six-straight victories, including a 13-2 blasting of Oglethorpe County on March 13, when the season was discontinued.

Banks County senior Braxton Simpson called having the season suddenly end amidst a hot streak “pretty hard.”

“We were all in a grove … We actually though we were going to go pretty far,” he said.

But the Leopards, especially the seniors, knew the season ending was a possibly as COVID-19 began spreading around the nation. Simpson said the team talked about the reality of the Oglethorpe County game being its last. He said the team had some “big words” in the pre-game huddle that night.

“We all kind of knew the game was ending,” Simpson said. “So, we all agreed that this was probably going to be our last game and to give it our best shot.”

The cancellation of the remainder of the spring sports season ended the careers of Banks County’s seven baseball seniors. Simpson described it was a pretty tight-knit group.

“We were all pretty close,” he said. “We grew up playing baseball together. We grew up together hanging out. I guess we were all pretty close. We all had a pretty strong connection with coach (Peyton) Hart … We were there with him the whole entire time.”

Not finishing out what the group had started was “pretty upsetting,” Simpson said.

“I know all the guys worked hard,” he said. “We were all striving to do big things, and then it all got shut out, so it’s been kind of hard for all of us so far.”

The hope is that once the coronavirus lockdown is lifted the group can join for a get-together to replace the senior night it never had.

As for Simpson, he’s been spending the shutdown going on hikes and spending time around family.

“I’m try to stay active somehow,” he said.

Simpson said he hears occasional updates about coronavirus but tries to tune out the news mostly. He said he’s still trying to figure out his college plans next year and if he’s going to play college baseball. But when looking back on his senior year of high school, Simpson will always see unfinished business.

“I think that I’ll wish we had another shot,” he said, “because I feel like worked a little too hard and we should have got a chance to play.”

‘We had a whole season ahead of us’

For Banks County senior golfer, Chelsea Lewallen, her first match this season turned out to be her last.

The golf Leopards got in a single round this year before sports were called off in mid-March. Lewallen was left wondering “what if.”

“I never would have thought our first match of the season would also be the last,” Lewallen said. “We had a whole season ahead of us, and it’s hard to think I will never be able to reach the goals I have been working towards since freshman year.”

Leading up to this season, Lewallen intended to make it one to remember.

She hadn’t faired as well at state last year as she had hoped and was set on remedying that this spring. Since Christmas, she’d been putting in hours at the course, taking lessons from a head pro and playing on the North Georgia Junior Golf circuit.

“My main goal was to get back to state and make up for how I played last year, but this time I wanted to have my team beside me,” Lewallen said. “Being able to experience a state tournament is unreal, but it is better when you have your team with you.”

Lewallen thought the girls’ team, though young, had a chance to compete at the area tournament for a trip to state. Now, that won’t happen.

She also said the boys’ team was in store for a big campaign, saying that group “was going to be great.”

“They had a strong lineup, and there is no doubt they would have qualified for state as a team. I can’t wait to come back next year and watch them finish what we started this season,” she said.

Though Lewallen is on quarantine, she said she’s still at the golf course everyday sharpening her game as a scholarship to Truett-McConnell awaits her.

“I work there along with two of the boys on the team, and we go play as much as possible to stay sharp,” she said. “I know I have to keep practicing and getting better, because in a few short months, I will be playing at the collegiate level.”

Lewallen, who signed with Truett-McConnell in January, said becoming a college athlete “has always been a dream of mine.”

“I can’t wait to spend the next four years playing the sport I love,” said Lewallen, who plans to double major in biology and business administration.

Still, Lewallen said she’ll aways feel like pieces of her senior year are missing.

“Everyone looks forward to their senior seasons and just the last few months of high school. For us to have that taken away is heartbreaking,” she said. “However, we made a lot of memories in the time we had, and it will always be a reminder to never take anything for granted.”

‘I was kind of excited to have my moment’

For Banks County baseball player Caden Cotton, the loss of the season didn’t necessarily seem real until the evening of senior night came and went without a game or celebration.

“That’s when it really hit me,” Cotton said. “It was kind of a tough day.”

Cotton, who’d been a part of the varsity squad since his freshman year (when he traveled with the team that year), had seen the previous four senior nights (including his eighth grade year).

“I was kind of excited to have my moment for my senior night,” he said.

Not only did the COVID-19 outbreak take away senior night, it ended a Leopard season that was off to a 12-4 start.

Cotton said he “had no doubt” the Leopards were in store for a big spring, one he envisioned would include a region title and possibly an Elite Eight run or further in Class AA.

That’s why when the season initially came to a halt on March 13, Banks County players planned to find ways to practice individually.

“In our head, we were going to stay positive because of the break,” Cotton said, “because, at first, it wasn’t shut down, it was postponed.”

But the cancellation of school for the rest of the year ended any lingering hopes the Banks County baseball team would finish what it started.

“I felt terrible because we were just doing so good,” Cotton said.

And Cotton and his fellow seniors will be left wondering just how good they could have been.

As for his future, Cotton looks to play baseball collegiately, so his career will continue.

With everything shut down, Cotton finds himself keeping up with the news about coronavirus, somewhat, as the global pandemic, which has wiped out sports nationwide, continues to spread.

“I’ve been paying attention, but I haven’t been too deep into it,” Cotton said.

Though his senior season was cut short, Cotton said he’ll still look back on the year with gratitude.

“I’m definitely very grateful just to have played for Banks County and just all the hard work we’ve put in and how it’s going to prepare me for the future,” he said. “So, I’m going to keep working as hard as I was and have been. It’s definitely been fun. There’s just been a lot of memories made.”

‘God’s way of telling us we need to slow down’

Martinet said she’s used the time away from tennis not just for a new hobby, but to take to step back before moving on to college.

“It’s definitely been unique,” she said of the shutdown, “but I guess I’m very thankful for this time right now before I go to college.”

Though a tennis player in the spring, Martinet has earned a college scholarship to Reinhardt in another sport — softball — so she’s prepping for that.

“It’s been my dream since I’ve started,” she said. “This is why I started playing. I picked up a ball at 3 years old, and I told my dad, that’s what I wanted to be when I grow up was a college softball player.”

She said she fills her days with training, conditioning and agility drills. Living on a lake allows for constant arm and cardio work.

“So, I’ve been able to do a lot of rowing on a boat and kayaking,” Martinet said. “I've been able to do that non-stop conditioning.”

Martinet said she keeps up with the news about coronavirus, which she called “a terrifying experience in a way.” Martinet points to national concerns, like the skyrocketing unemployment rate.

“I’m just praying that it all ends within the next month or two,” she said.

But Martinet has sought to find positives in the midst of grim news.

“I truly believe this is God’s way of telling the world that we need to slow down,” she said of everyone sheltering in place. “What we’re doing right now is just taking a break to find ourselves again.”

While her high school athletic career ended sooner than planned due to a global pandemic, Martinet said she’ll look back on her senior year as a pivotal one — one that included her getting a job, deciding on a college and a choosing a major and career path (she plans to teach).

“I will definitely look back on it as the year I became an adult,” Martinet said.


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