By Marin Murray

The stands have been noticeably quieter this year. Masks or gaiters cover the faces of every person on the sideline. Tournaments have been canceled and pep rallies have been erased altogether.

Due to the pandemic, the class of ‘21 has had to deal with so much this year, however, they refuse to let their adversity define them, on and off the field and court. The struggles these senior student-athletes have encountered have ultimately made them stronger not just as athletes, but as people too.

 “I wish we didn’t have COVID stuff, but I’m pretty thankful for the season we did have and just getting to go to the playoffs,”  football senior Keegan Copher said. “I think it was a good step towards getting ready for our futures, our lives, and our careers; just because the real world has all of this adversity and that’s just a great thing to have and to show that we were able to overcome all of that.”

Copher has been the starting center for the football team for the last two years and has dealt with plenty of change, including the promotion of coach Mike Fullen to head coach last year. However, the change COVID brought was something Copher had never seen before.

 “We knew that [the season] could be taken away from us,” Copher said. “Especially as a senior knowing that you do not want that to happen, for it to just be stripped away from you. If it’s going to be taken away, you want it to be your fault, and you don’t want to end on a technicality like that.”

In addition to a season full of uncertainties, the senior athletes had to step up in place of Coach Fullen, who was diagnosed with cancer at the beginning of the season.

“The leadership that the seniors provided and the trail that they cut for future Abilene Eagle football players was very important, very valuable to this program,” assistant football coach Jeff Rhoads said. “These seniors led the charge, all last year and during off-season, and during the season they kept us going. Most of the time, the leadership on your team comes from seniors and we had good, strong senior leadership this year.”

Not only has the senior leadership been felt on the football field, it’s been felt on the basketball court too.

“I think we have a really good group of seniors, so we’ve had great leadership from those guys this year,” head boys basketball coach Justin Reese said. ”For this to be their last year, to go out on a crazy year at first I think was hard for them, but I think they’ve embraced it and embraced the challenge. They’ve had great leadership and character all year, so I’m especially proud of them this year. They all are unique, they’ve all led in different ways, and they’ve all brought something different to the table and to the program, but they’ve all been a positive influence for our guys.”

Though every sport has had some type of season, whether it be shortened or with restrictions imposed, the cheerleading team has remained sidelined most of the year. With the loss of pep rallies and the homecoming parade, the cheerleaders have had to find different ways to keep the spirit alive this season. Nonetheless, the nine senior cheerleaders and one mascot have found a way to make the most of their last year.

 “It’s taught me to appreciate things, little things, because you never know when things can change, like everything has changed due to COVID,” cheer captain Carlee Lamb said. “Appreciate everything you get and every opportunity you get. I think being a senior has honestly made it different because I’ve been much more appreciative of everything I’ve gotten to do because it’s my last time doing it.”

As COVID vaccines are becoming more available to the public, these seniors are hoping to have a more normal college freshman year compared to their high school senior experience.

“I try to think of how things could’ve been different if COVID hadn’t existed,” Lamb said. “But, I think overall I wouldn’t change anything because good things have still come out of it than if it was different.