The final whistle has sounded on many high school team’s seasons and seniors are taking off their jerseys for the final time — literally and emotionally.
“When you know you are done playing competitive, it’s never easy to accept. But I try to do my best to help that transition for them,” Fisher Catholic boys soccer coach Ben Schenko said. “From Day 1, I let them know that they are one day closer to playing your last game.”
The Irish played their final match of the season Saturday, a 2-1 loss to Fairbanks in the Division III district tournament. The loss put the fourth-year coach in a new situation as Fisher Catholic had just one senior, Will Partridge.
“We feel like we have some unfinished business and the sad part for Will is knowing that the other 19 guys on the team all get to come back and try to finish that business,” Schenko said. “He knows he doesn’t get to put that jersey on and come back out on to the field and right the things that we feel went wrong this year.”
While Partridge might be alone on his own team, many others are going through the same experience. How the end of their playing career impacts the individual depends on many things, Fairifeld Union girls soccer coach Philip Rothgeb said, including how much the sport was a part of the athlete’s identity.
“I think more emotions may come out when they know they didn’t give as much to the sport as they could of and they finally reflect,” Rothgeb said. “I think sometimes they are ready for the next step in life and this is the one thing left in high school that they have to get through.”
The Falcons lost Oct. 15 in a Division II Southeast District tournament, ending their season and the careers of two players.
Easing that transition to life without competitive athletics, takes many forms. Some, such as Schenko, go out of their way to ensure their players know from the time they join the team as a freshman that their time playing the sport is limited. Even if an athlete does play after high school, their competing days will end one day and the sooner they prepare for that, the better Schenko said.
Rothgeb, who has coached four senior classes at Fairfield Union, continually refers to the ‘senior clock,’ the countdown of final experiences for the 12th-graders.
“It’s not something that we bring up at the last minute and kind of drop in their laps,” he said. “(We tell them to) try to enjoy the whole senior year, the whole senior aspect. It’s the last go-around with everything they do. Hopefully they soak it all in and really get to appreciate the last few events of their senior year.”
In addition to addressing the looming end to the season, coaches bring focus on other facets of an individual’s life and other ways that they still can be involved with the sport they love.
Liberty Union volleyball coach Lisa Feyko saw the high school careers of her first senior class, including her own daughter, end Saturday. Although she knows they need to move on from their sport, Feyko said there are options for the girls to stay involved.
“It’s a time to refocus on some of those other interests as they head into college,” she said. “You always talk about the options that they have. We have a youth program here, and I let them know that I coach them because of the awesome experiences I had as a player and I told them that they can provide those same opportunities to other girls and just pay it back.”
Schenko also said he encourages his athletes to stay involved. The experience of losing something you love so much, he said, is difficult on these athletes and something that is almost impossible to explain to those that haven’t experienced it. He does not force his players to divorce themselves from the program.
“I tell them that even if they aren’t going to wear the jersey anymore, they will be a part of Fisher Catholic soccer,” he said.
Drawing attention to the many positives athletes have experienced during their playing careers can also temper the negative feelings that high school seniors face.
Bloom-Carroll girls soccer had many positives on the field this season, going undefeated in the regular season before dropping its first tournament match Oct. 16.
“Especially right after the game its real tough, a lot of tears are flowing. You never expect losing going into a game, so you are never quite prepared when the season is over,” Bulldogs coach Mark Casperson said. “We focused on the positive things they’ve accomplished over their four years.”
Those positives extended past the soccer field. Casperson’s team participated in multiple charitiy events for breast cancer and was involved in the community’s youth soccer program. In addition to the soccer success, the coach highlighted these experiences after the team’s surprising loss.
“The girls achieved a lot this season,” he said. “That’s what you have to remind them. We weren’t expecting that loss but you can’t let them it feel it was their fault.”
Despite attempts to prepare seniors for the end of their playing days, that conclusion actually can serve as its own learning tool.
“It’s a weird mixture of sadness and appreciation,” Schenko said. “Kids are in high school and so many athletes associate themselves with the sport that they play. You don’t ever think that ride is going to end, and when it does end it’s a lot to deal with. It’s great preparation for life and there is no better way to prepare for that.”
The first step might be taking off that jersey.