One Step Back, Two Steps Forward

Patrick Baldwin Class of 2021, Hamilton High School (Sussex, WIX)

My Story with Covid-19

About thirteen months ago, I put out a tweet that read “365 days”, which marked the beginning of Hamilton’s quest towards hoisting the coveted gold ball in March. Fast forward about eight months from the time of that tweet and you’ll arrive at our first team practice of the young 2019-2020 season. At that moment in time, nobody knew how it would end. We were all playing the sport we loved, free of the notion that it could be taken away during the final leg of our season. On so many levels, I feel for the people that put their heart and soul into sports just to have it placed on public ban due to a historical outbreak. For the players, coaches, and fans, this outbreak has seemingly divided the sports world, and forced social humans into the confinement of their home. While I have no platform to speak on behalf of all, for me personally, the coronavirus has been nothing more than one step back and two steps forward.

Regular Season

In many cases, the season was going as planned. We traveled to Illinois and defeated a tough team, finished the season 22-3, we improved ourselves one percent at a time, and at the end of the day we had fun together. As I take a step back and analyze this season, I can confidently say this was one of the closest groups of players and coaches that I’ve ever played with. Through the good and the bad, there was never a moment during the season that I would’ve changed. I’m sure many of my teammates feel the same.

During the regular season, we were winning games and winning with a smile. In practice we were pushing each other to be the best every day and holding each other accountable.  Towards the end of the season one singular goal became king in everyone’s mind: to be the last team standing in the Kohl Center.

During the final month of the regular season, our entire focus was put toward gearing up for the playoffs. Our diets improved, our sleep changed, and our habits changed. Everyone was locked in.

Playoffs

At the start of the playoffs, we adapted the mantra of “Free Solo”, which stemmed from the inspiring story of Alex Honnold. Alex Honnold, a world famous rock climber, has a passion for climbing bigger and more rigorous mountains than the typical human can even imagine. His biggest climbing accomplishment would later be El Capitan in Yosemite National Park. Alex had free soloed large walls and mountains before, however, El Capitan was a terrain that could not be simulated anywhere else in the world. He was up for the challenge, and he began mapping out the terrain and memorizing foot placements and rock patterns so he could eventually make the journey without a harness. The day finally came for Alex to begin the quest up El Capitan, and unlike a normal person, he was undaunted by the challenge because he had prepared and mastered the terrain for years prior with a harness. In the end Alex Honnold climbed the 3,000 foot landmark without a harness (a trip that took just under 4 hours) and lived to tell the story.

We used this story to give us motivation into our playoff run. Alex was climbing the mountain solely off of instincts and patterns, and one mistake could mark the end of his life. This applies to the playoffs because we were climbing that mountain towards a gold ball, with nothing to save us if we were to fall. If we lose one game, all the work we put in to get to that point is washed away and we have to start over next year. My teammates and I are all very competitive and we took this story to heart.

The first two regional games against Hartford and De Pere was a step in the right direction as we came out victorious by large margins. After those games, we hit the court hard in the week following in order to prepare for Arrowhead.

News broke on game day that the WIAA would only allow 88 people per team to be inside the gym to witness the game. I was unfazed by this change because that meant that my family would still be there to watch, which means the world to me. This was the first time that questions began to rise about the fate of our season. Though all the chaos we still had a game to play, and we were ready for battle.

It was weird to walk out onto the floor of a sectional game and see large amounts of empty seats. The energy felt a bit off, but it was business as usual and we came out with the win.

The game against Arrowhead put us at the halfway point of our climb. Everything was great, life was good…

One Step Back

Following that game news from the WIAA broke about an update on the coronavirus outbreak. Multiple sources said the WIAA had cancelled all winter sports effective immediately, which would mean that our free solo climb had been cancelled. I was not surprised due to the fact that many other states had already cancelled its tournament play. I had an idea of what to expect in the back of my mind, but I was never truly prepared for the news to come to reality.

Like any normal team, my teammates and I immediately took to our phones and began talking about the situations. A chaotic mixture of reactions flooded the group chat nearly instantaneously. Typically our group chats are humorous and productive. However, the tone of this conversation shifted to a somber tone, a tone in which we were all mourning together. The initial response to the news was disbelief, as the news was too extraordinary to be true.

In a blink of an eye, our free solo was cut short, leaving us stranded half way up the climb to the Gold Ball. Something that we had been working for ended abruptly due to an uncontrollable factor.

At the time the news introduced a flurry of emotions that overtook me. While I understood the reason behind the decision was for everyone’s safety, the competitor in me wanted the games to continue.

But ultimately what seemed in the moment as one step back, turned into a positive that pushed me 2 steps forward.

Two Steps Forward

Throughout life, I have always carried myself with a shooter’s mentality. In basketball I’ve learned that it is impossible to be perfect. Even professional marksmen such as JJ Reddick, Steph Curry, and Klay Thompson view a 50% shooting percentage as a success. In sports you can never dwell on the last mistake, the last missed shot, the last turnover, because the game is played at such a fast pace. I treat life the same way, and I’ve treated the Coronavirus situation the same way as well.

You must look for the positives.

Instead of mourning the tragic end of our season, I began looking for ways that the sports lockout can help me. I’ve found that it has helped in two ways; one, strengthening my relationships with important people in my life such as my family, my teammates, my day-one friends, and coaches that I’m connected to. Secondly, I’ve found that this “coroanacation” has allowed me to explore different hobbies, such as art and trading cards.

For the seniors and spring sport athletes, I can’t imagine how it feels to have your high school career end like this, for I still have one more year of high school basketball. For many seniors this will be the last time taking the court/field/stage alongside their teammates and peers. Ultimately it’s important for everyone to stay optimistic, make the best out of this situation, and cherish the memories that have nothing to do with the scoreboard.

Having a shooter’s mentality in life has really helped me get through the Covid-19 outbreak and I encourage the readers of this letter to also expand your comfort zones during this time.

I’m a strong believer that Covid-19 is nothing more than one step back and two steps forward, and I hope we can power through this together.

-Patrick Baldwin JR.

Follow Patrick on Twitter: @_pbaldwin23

Note 

I had the privilege of supporting Hamilton High School Head Coach Andy Cerroni this season and working with his team in January. People are impressed with Patrick’s powerful 6’9″ frame, athleticism, skill, and his ranking as one of the best basketball players in the world for his age. But the thing that was most impressive to me was his character. One hour into my three day trip it was clear he loved his team and the team loved Patrick the person, not just the star basketball player. So when Coach Cerroni shared this reflection from Patrick I was not a bit surprised he had figured out what so many of us haven’t during this time… Our greatest challenges are our greatest opportunities! 

-J.P. Nerbun, Founder and Director of Thrive On Challenge

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