After more than a month of optimism, the news athletes across New Hampshire feared has become a reality.

New Hampshire’s spring high school sports season has been officially cancelled due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, the New Hampshire Interscholastic Athletic Association (NHIAA) announced Thursday afternoon.

“It didn’t really hit me until today that it was really going to happen,” said Salem baseball coach Dan Keleher. “A lot of us were hoping that it wasn’t going to happen even if, in some part of our minds, we knew it was probably the reality. It’s tough to take. It hit me hard today. I’m still kind of in disbelief.”

The decision came after New Hampshire governor Chris Sununu announced Thursday that New Hampshire students would continue remote learning through the end of the school year.

“This is very, very disappointing,” said Pinkerton boys track coach Carol Quarles. “In the back of my mind, I figured this was going to happen, but we were holding out hope. We were hoping they would push it further and further, but it just wasn’t in the cards. I feel so sad for our seniors. They are having a really hard time with this.”

NHIAA executive director Jeffrey T. Collins made the decision official in a press release Thursday.

“While it was our hope to salvage some portion of the spring season,” he said in the release, “the fact that schools will not reopen to students this year and the uncertainty surrounding when or if social distancing guidelines will be lifted has made us face the stark reality that playing high school sports this spring is simply not an option.”

Most New Hampshire sports were originally scheduled to begin playing games this week, before the season was put on hold.

“I’m really at a loss,” said Timberlane volleyball coach Sean Hogan. “It’s hard to wrap your head around. No one has ever been through anything like this. It seems like this was what had to be done, but it’s so unfortunate.

“We had a very good team back. We had a senior-heavy roster. Even when we started to lose hope for a traditional season, there were rumors about a summer jamboree, then some kind of tournament. But it didn’t happen.”

Pinkerton athletic director Brian O’Reilly — who retired as boys lacrosse coach after leading the Astros to a second straight Division 1 state title last spring — said the NHIAA explored many options.

“The NHIAA was willing to do almost anything to give the kids a season,” said O’Reilly. “They looked into a shortened season. There was talk about waiting until June 1, playing one home game and one away game to give everyone a senior night, then going into a play-in tournament. They were willing to go as far as they possibly could.

“Everyone understands there are bigger issues at play here than sports. Whether you are talking about high school sports or professional sports, it put things in perspective. But it is very difficult for the senior athletes. Your senior year is something you can never replicate.”

Salem volleyball coach John Roemer said his defending state champion Blue Devils were pumped for the chance to defend their crown.

“I think we would have surprised a lot of people,” said Roemer. “It’s a sad day for all sports. It’s the right thing to do health-wise, but it’s tough to see these seniors lose their last season of high school sports.

“My son (also named John) is a senior at Pelham High and I see how tough it is for him. There’s no prom, no spring track season for him. He doesn’t know about graduation. He’s joining the Army, and he doesn’t know when he will be deployed. It’s tough.”

Added Salem softball coach Haley Chandler: “I’m heartbroken for our athletes. While it is certainly the right call, it has broken a lot of hearts. I think what athletes need now is reassurance that whatever they’re feeling is normal. It’s an unprecedented time, and hopefully we can be back to some semblance of ‘normal’ by the summer or fall.”

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