Senior defender Micah Zandee-Hart at the ECAC semifinals against Harvard on March 7, 2020. Zandee-Hart is one of many Cornell athletes whose collegiate athletic career was cut short by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Boris Tsang / Sun Photography Editor

Senior defender Micah Zandee-Hart at the ECAC semifinals against Harvard on March 7, 2020. Zandee-Hart is one of many Cornell athletes whose collegiate athletic career was cut short by the COVID-19 pandemic.

March 16, 2020

After Heartbreaking End to Seasons, a Reminder of Student Athletes’ Commitment

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The sudden shift from pre-March Madness excitement to a sports-less spring — heartbreaking for players and fans around the country — is nobody’s top concern right now. The NCAA and pro sports leagues are 100 percent right to shut down.

But here in Ithaca, my heart breaks for the hundreds of Cornell student athletes who will forever be left to wonder what might have come of the spring of 2020, whose collegiate careers were flipped upside down by a crisis that seemed so distant just a few days ago.

Ivy League student athletes are smart, driven kids at the near or absolute top of their sports. They give everything to represent Cornell and wear their colors with pride.

Their dedication and drive — to make it back from injury, to win a national championship, to be there for their teammates — ending up unable to yield results would’ve been unimaginable a few days ago.

The vast majority of Cornell’s student athletes aren’t going to sign million-dollar contracts, play in prime time on national television or sign big shoe contracts. These athletes work tirelessly for the love of the game, for their teammates and for Cornell.

It’s a shame that these athletes — especially graduating seniors who may have taken the field, court, diamond and ice for the last time — won’t get a proper send-off.

Cornell’s No. 1 ranked hockey teams will get a lot of love. And they deserve all that appreciation, and more, for their tremendous seasons that won’t end in bids for national championships.

A lot of hearts will break for Cornell’s No. 2 men’s lacrosse team, which looked poised for another stellar season.

Many fans will be thinking of the eight Cornell wrestlers who won’t be able to compete in this year’s national championships.

In addition to all these athletes, we’d all do well to spend a moment appreciating and thanking Cornellians on softball, baseball, equestrian, polo, sailing, rowing, gymnastics, squash, track and field, tennis and golf teams, who don’t draw thousands of fans and don’t get national media attention, but who pour their everything into their teams.

These student athletes represent so much of what it means to be a Cornellian: working for one another, proudly donning the red ‘C’ and wearing the “blue collar Ivy” chip on their shoulders.

I don’t claim to really know what it’s like to balance Division I sports with Ivy League academics or how it feels to be in your late teens and early 20s and be at the top of your sport. But I do know that as a sportswriter at The Sun, one of the things I enjoy most is talking to student athletes and seeing firsthand the passion and drive that go into representing our University.

Sports aren’t the only thing, and they’re certainly not the most important thing right now. But for these students, some of the hardest-working and most driven at Cornell, their sport is everything. That they won’t be able to work toward a title, finish their senior seasons or spend a spring with their teams is heartbreaking, and a reminder of how central a role sports play in our lives.

When we get through this outbreak — and we will — sports will be there for us to escape life for a while and enjoy the heartbreak, triumph, trials and victories that only sports can bring.

In the meantime, here’s an idea: If you’re up for it, and want to send Cornell student athletes — especially graduating seniors — your appreciation, send me an email at rgendler@cornellsun.com. Address it to whomever you please and say whatever’s on your mind. I’ll try to get your messages to the athletes, and if I can’t, I’ll put them on social media or in a story at cornellsun.com for fans, athletes and Cornellians to see.