The words might be resonating more today than when Joni Mitchell began belting out the lyrics in 1970: “That you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.”
They have become the soundtrack for 2020.
The parts of life snatched from the high school athletes by this virus are not the worst things about COVID-19. Losing proms, graduations and games pale in comparison to losing loved ones, losing jobs and living in fear.
Yet, when you are 17 or 18 years old and have a dream like playing in the Shrine Maple Sugar Bowl yanked out from under you, it is a very big deal.
The Vermont and New Hampshire players met for a picnic Saturday at Storrs Recreational Area in Hanover, New Hampshire. It was the day they would have competed in the Shrine Maple Sugar Bowl at Castleton University.
When the Shriners made the announcement after a meeting on June 30 that the Maple Sugar Bowl would not be played, it didn’t surprise anyone. It still hurt.
“I had a feeling it was going to happen,” said Keaghan McAllister, a player from Stevens High School in Claremont, New Hampshire. “It is still very upsetting.
“Since third grade it has been my dream,” Stevens’ Quentin Bicknell said.
“Q and I have been thinking about the Shrine Game since the third grade when we started playing football,” McAllister said.
Vermont head coach Rich Alercio (St. Johnsbury Academy) said he was pretty sure the cancellation of the game was coming. He was expecting it, but holding out hope.
“It was still a punch in the gut,” Alercio said.
A double punch. Alerecio was not only the coach, but the parent of a player. Trey Alercio was to be one the quarterbacks.
“It’s not exactly what we wanted today. It’s gut-wrenching as a coach and as a father,” Alercio said.
Coaching in the Shrine Maple Sugar Bowl is not the aspect of the event Alercio missed most. It was spending the week-long training camp with the players, developing relationships with them and making sure they had a great experience they would cherish for a lifetime.
“Spending a week together and being able to say goodbye at the end of the week. That is what I miss most,” the coach said.
The virus not only took the Maple Sugar Bowl from the McCoy family, it left a larger void. Tom McCoy, head coach at Burr and Burton Academy, was one of Alercio’s assistants for the game. Tom’s son Joey was another one of Vermont’s quarterbacks.
But that is not all that was lost for this family. This is a football family. This year was to have not only included the Shrine Maple Sugar Bowl, but coach Tom McCoy’s season with his Burr and Burton Bulldogs and Joey dashing onto the field with his brother Jay wearing the purple and orange of the Hobart College Statesmen. Jay began making his mark as a safety for the Statesmen last fall and Joey was ready to join him this season.
Everything changed. The virus sacked Hobart’s season and a cloud of uncertainty hangs over Burr and Burton’s football season as well.
“The boys were disappointed. They love to compete. They don’t know anything different than playing sports,” coach McCoy said. “They were excited to play together at Hobart.”
Kyle Hamilton, a Vermont Shrine player from Hartford, can identify with the McCoy’s situation. He was looking forward to being a teammate of his brother Tyler with the Bates College football team in Lewiston, Maine. Bates’ season has also been extinguished by the virus.
Rutland High School’s Matt Creed is another who lost the Shrine Game along with his first year of college football. He would have been a lineman at Worcester Polytechnic Institute.
The college experience was going to be so different with online learning on campus that Creed decided to take a gap year and wait until 2021 to begin pursuing his degree in Business Analytics at WPI. He will be an assistant coach on Mike Norman’s staff at Rutland High and work while waiting to start his college career.
Creed has also been working out with the Rutland High football players.
“Football keeps me going,” Creed said.
He said missing out on the Shrine Maple Sugar Bowl was a little more of a hit than missing the 2020 college football season.
“This is tough because it was my last chance to go out with these guys,” said the 6-foot-6, 300-pound offensive lineman. “With this, you don’t get another chance.”
Creed was looking forward to sharing one more game with Rutland High’s other Shrine teammates Malik Hendrickson, Ethan Coarse and Luke Ragosta.
It was a chance to add another page in the Shrine Bowl family scrapbook for Poultney’s Caden Capman. His grandfather Dave Capman played in the 1965 Shrine Maple Sugar Bowl and his father Chris in the 1992 edition.
“It is kind of unreal, kind of upsetting. It was something I looked forward to all my life,” Caden said. “It really is unfortunate this happened.”
Poultney’s Jacob DeBonis was looking forward to following his uncle Kevin DeBonis in this year’s summer classic.
“When I heard about the cancellation, it was a mix of anger and sadness,” DeBonis said.
“We tried our darndest to play the game. We waited until the last minute,” Maple Sugar Bowl Game Chairman Kristi Morrris told the players and coaches. “It was just the right thing to do.”
The cancellation interrupted a longtime summer tradition. This would have been the 67th consecutive year the game would have been played.
It is often said that you learn more from the losses than the victories and this disappointment figures to fortify the 2020 Shrine players with a lesson they can apply as they encounter the obstacles that are inevitable.
“These kids will be better prepared for dealing with failure than most kids coming out of high school,” coach Alercio said.