Voss Fillmore

In this May 30, 2019, file photo, Fillmore’s Riley Voss fields the ball during a Section 5 Class D1 softball semifinal against Batavia Notre Dame in Houghton.

FILLMORE — It’s become one of the most commonly-used words in this COVID-19 pandemic era.

“Distance.”

Jon Beardsley knew that, at some point, he was going to have to tell his Fillmore softball team that its season was canceled, that it wouldn’t get the opportunity to make another postseason push. And when that day finally arrived, on May 1, it was the distance between he and his players that made it even more difficult.

“That was the hardest thing, is when you do something well — or it doesn’t go well — the one thing you want to do is be together,” said Beardsley, who, with schools closed for the remainder of the year, was forced to address the news virtually rather than in a dugout, “and not having that opportunity to experience those emotions together was the most difficult (aspect), certainly for me.”

AFTER advancing to at least the sectional semis in each of the last three seasons, Fillmore had high expectations again this spring.

Yes, it had a massive hole to fill in the loss of star pitcher Macy Miller, now at Division I St. Bonaventure, but it was confident in what it had back, especially its five seniors, a quintet that included county all-stars Carlee Miller and Riley Voss.

This, after all, was a group that helped Fillmore elevate not only the softball program, but was the latest contributing class in an unprecedented era of success for all girls sports at the small Allegany County institution.

This year alone, the soccer team (18-1-1) won the Section 5 Class D-1 championship — also under Beardsley’s watch; the basketball team (20-3) reached the title game before falling to Pavilion.

Sadly, the softball team, which reached the D-1 semis last year, won’t get a chance to write the final chapter for 2020.

“I think they knew it was coming,” Beardsley acknowledged, “but I’m guessing they all probably felt, ‘Well, jeez, we started this as a team, we’ve done everything we’ve done’ ... it’s that senior mentality that you just want one more time together.

“That was what I shared with them the most; they came to the conclusion that, we’ve got to find a time, hopefully before the next chapter of life kicks in, that we can get together and kind of have a last ‘hurrah,’ whatever that might be.”

AND WITH the season officially nixed, that’s where Beardsley’s mindset is … at least from a softball standpoint.

Fillmore has been using its school Facebook page to spotlight a different senior each day. Beardsley, like most coaches, has been staying in touch with his players though online video conferencing.

At this stage, it’s likely that coaches have thought about what they’d like to do for their seniors when teams are able to meet again in person — have the togetherness they were denied this spring.

Beardsley envisions gathering the entire program, from seventh through 12th grade, for what he described as “Softball Days,” where his seniors would get the sendoff they should have received today.

“The one thing I take pride in, and I think all of our coaches and the programs that are successful, is: Just because you’re a senior doesn’t mean that you’re done being part of our program,” said Beardsley, whose team was scheduled to play its final home game today against rival Bolivar-Richburg.

“And this is never more true right now, that if we can’t do something now or very soon in the future, then whether we can find a way to bring them back and recognize them even later, we’ll be doing that.”

THESE TRYING times have been revealing … in a good way, Beardsley said.

He’s seen how emotional his teams can be in times of heartache; he figured that the adversity caused by the coronavirus — the need for at-home learning, of having so many activities taken away — might have a similar effect.

But that hasn’t been the case.

“The adults are trying their best to fix things and make things as right as possible,” he noted, “but I’m amazed at how adaptable and flexible and resilient kids are. This is new for all of us, and you’re thinking it’s going to be really tough for them to handle this, and they’ve kind of been the ones that are showing us exactly how we’re supposed to act. I’m really proud of them that way.”

Rather, his players, knowingly or not, have begun to apply what they’ve learned on the softball diamond — being a good teammate, handling hardship, the need for hard work — to real life.

“The experience in athletics that a lot of these kids have had, and I’ve been a part of, is a perfect example where I see them trying,” Beardsley said. “Because they’ve had, not necessarily experiences of this magnitude, but it teaches them a lot of life lessons and we’re learning a lot about life right now, quick.”

At first, Beardsley, who’s as involved as any coach in the Big 30, was mostly bummed about what the Eagles were missing out on between the lines.

Not being able to push for a sectional title. Not being able to “go up against the Mark Emerys (of Bolivar-Richburg).”

As time has passed, however, he more so misses the mere day-to-day.

“That’s the one thing that we spent most of the time talking about,” he said. “It’s not, ‘Oh, I wish we could play that game,’ it’s, ‘I wish I had a bus ride, I wish I had practice,’ those kinds of things. I’d give anything for that right now.

“The one thing I miss the most is just being around the kids, and it is why I do what I do and it’s reminding me exactly that I’m doing the right thing because that’s what gives me one of my greatest joys is just hanging out with them, seeing them grow … just spending time with them.”

(J.P. Butler, Bradford Publishing Company group sports editor, can be reached at jbutler@oleantimesherald.com)

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