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The longest break ever ends for high school spring sports athletes

Providence baseball coach Mac Mackiewitz watches players practice running drills Monday on the opening day of practice for the spring season. (Kevin Talley, News4Jax)

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The longest break ever for spring high school sports athletes is over. Finally. Thankfully.

Providence baseball coach Mac Mackiewitz said that his family was probably sick of hearing him talk about this day on the calendar. His players had a countdown calendar, anxiously checking off the days one by one.

25. 24. 23. 22 ...

At long last, Monday finally arrived.

“I’m so grateful. If you had asked me before corona[virus] do you appreciate your job, do you truly love baseball, I’d be like, I definitely appreciate it, 100%,” he said.

“I was nowhere close. It was taken away from me, from everyone. And then now to be back with such a great group of guys, too, we’re so excited about it. My appreciation for my job and my sport, just quadrupled.”

When the coronavirus pandemic swept the country early last year, it hit right in the heart of the spring sports season. Gov. Ron DeSantis announced March 17 that schools would be closed through April 15, 2020. Athletics were paused, too.

Everyone knows how it played out.

That pause ultimately became a full cancellation of the 2020 spring season due to the pandemic. The fall sports season, while it was delayed briefly, was played through to the finish. Winter sports have gone on largely as planned, albeit with coronavirus postponements here and there.

But for spring sports athletes in baseball, softball and tennis, the wait went on to resume until Monday.

It never felt so good to get out on the practice field.

Providence baseball player Max Taylor said that countdown to Monday had been on for as long as anyone could remember. While many schools didn’t practice on the first allowed date due to the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, it didn’t matter.

Spring sports are on their way back.

“There were some doubts, honestly [about when the games would return],” Taylor said. “We were in the middle of a game and we got the alert from our AD, this could end now, or it could just be two weeks. We were really expecting the two-week break and not as far as it went. So, I’m just glad we got to come back as early as we could.”

Some schools were able to squeeze in late summer baseball and softball, but actual, in-season high school practices were off until Monday. Tennis athletes joined baseball and softball in being able to practice Monday. The five other spring sports played by area high schools — boys volleyball, flag football, lacrosse, track and field and boys weightlifting — are next in line to resume practices in the coming weeks.

The start of the regular season isn’t far behind.

Weightlifting starts Feb. 1. Tennis seasons begin Feb. 8. Track and field, baseball, softball and lacrosse seasons starts Feb. 15, while boys volleyball and flag football both begin March 1.

Mackiewitz said that the sport wasn’t the only thing he missed during the pandemic.

“The appreciation for the guys, too, not just the game of baseball, but being around the guys on a daily basis,” Mackiewitz said.

“Teenagers, they go through a lot. They’ve got a lot of hard times, a lot of struggles and a lot of good times, and I missed being a part of that rollercoaster, their ups and downs and hopefully being a rock in their life, steady. I didn’t realize how much I would miss that, and I did.”

About the Author:

Justin Barney joined News4Jax in February 2019, but he’s been covering sports on the First Coast for more than 20 years.