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Veteran Latta coach talks about lost season

Ada Evening News - 3/28/2020

Mar. 28--LATTA -- In over 40 years on the job, veteran Latta head baseball coach Eddie Collins hasn't ever had to fill a void during the spring like this.

The COVID-19 pandemic is uncharted waters for every coach in the state who is involved in spring sports.

School is closed for the year and with it, baseball, softball, golf, tennis, soccer, track and other spring activities are also shut down.

"The closest thing I have ever seen to this was in 2001, after the bombing of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Everybody kind of went on hold for about a week or so, just to make sure there weren't going to be further attacks," Collins said.

"I've had some seasons where it rained an enormous amount, but really no more than it has this year. But nothing on this scale," he said.

The first time Latta was going to be able to play a spring baseball game was on March 14, two days after high school state basketball games were postponed. That game with local school Asher was rained out.

The Oklahoma Secondary School Activities Association then postponed spring athletics three days before Latta could open the season against Okemah on March 20. This week, all spring sports were canceled.

The Panthers -- including seniors Jeron Johnston, Creed Humphrey, Chance Perry, Rylan Reed and Braden Schroeder -- never got play a single inning of their final season.

"I feel for them. I hurt for them," Collins said. "I hurt for them so bad because of all the hard work and dedication they've put in -- not only the seniors but all our offseason kids -- for this upcoming spring. I know it's difficult, especially for our seniors."

Seniors everywhere will leave their footprint on spring sports, just not quite the way they expected.

"You're not going to be forgotten. This senior class of baseball players will never be forgotten, I promise you," Collins said. "They'll have an asterisk that said they didn't get to play their senior year."

Last fall, the Panthers won nine of 10 games before dropping a 9-2 decision to top-ranked and Class A juggernaut Silo in the state semifinals. Latta finished the season with a 20-10 record.

Latta was ready to pick up right where it left off after its strong run to the state tournament. Many expected Latta to be Class 2A contenders again this spring.

"We were ready to go. I've never had a group work any harder in the offseason than these young men did. The way we finished last fall was really encouraging for the spring," Collins said. "It makes me even more proud of my seniors for the way we put things together at the end of the fall. They were going into it with great anticipation. I hope they do not let what didn't happen this spring put a blemish on what they got done last fall. At the end of the year, we were knocking at the door."

Collins hopes that his players can make the most of an unfathomable situation.

"They can use this to make them stronger individuals and stronger Christians. They did what they had to do. That's the best message they can send. We miss playing, but we did what we had to do," Collins said. "Our seniors wanted to carry on the tradition that Latta has and pass it down to the underclassmen, and I think they did a really good job of that. For that, I commend them."

Collins hopes his younger players can learn from these trying times and cherish each moment they get to hang out on a baseball field from now on.

"If there's a message from this to the underclassmen, it's enjoy every day at the ballpark. This only goes to show there's really nothing that's set at stone and nothing for certain. You have to play each and every game and every inning with everything you got, and don't take it for granted," he said.

Collins also emphasized he wants all his Latta baseball family to take care of themselves until this pandemic runs its course.

"It may not seem like it, but there are larger things going on in this world now that sports is taking a back seat to. You need to stay safe and protect your family and try to stay healthy," he said. "We've got to obey the rules and do what it takes to keep you and your loved ones safe. That's the biggest issue."

Collins admitted that the world is a stranger place without sports at any level -- high school, college or professional -- taking place.

"Everybody now knows that sports is a luxury for us. Sports has always been a way to escape from everything. And I guess now we're going to learn to do other things." he said said.

"Right now, it doesn't seem like wins and losses mean anything. I just want my kids to take care of themselves. Tough times don't always last, but tough people do," he continued. "When this is all over with and the Lord has brought us through this, then we can get back to work. We can cherish everything you get to do that's sports-related and school-related."

Collins can't wait to get to the other side of the pandemic and begin conducting business as usual. Until then, his message to all his family, friends, coworkers and players is the same: Stay strong and keep the faith.

"Our great Lord has a plan. Oklahoma is going to get through this. Pontotoc County is going to get through this. And Latta and the schools around us are going to get through this," he said.


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