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Eli Capilouto, Mitch Barnhart to UK athletes: “You are asked to sacrifice to serve a greater good.”

Kentucky softball players are off to a torrid start but won’t have a chance to play in the NCAA Tournament. (Vicky Graff Photo)

The NCAA cancelled all remaining winter and spring championships on Wednesday, making the decision based on the evolving COVID-19 public health threat, the ability to ensure the events do not contribute to spread of the pandemic, and the impracticality of hosting such events at any time during this academic year given ongoing decisions by other entities.

This will include next week’s men’s and women’s basketball tournaments; NCAA Men’s and Women’s Rifle Championships and Zone C Diving Championships set to take place at UK this weekend; and the track and field, swimming and diving gymnastics, men’s golf, women’s golf, men’s tennis, women’s tennis, softball and baseball championships in which UK teams were eligible to compete.

In response to the news, President Eli Capilouto and Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart delivered the following message to student-athletes, coaches and staff Thursday:

“Late this afternoon, the NCAA announced the cancellation of all winter and spring championships. This difficult decision was made in response to an unprecedented health crisis of the accelerating spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19).

“In such a moment, all of us are called to do what we can to help slow the spread of this virus. Our country is marshalling its forces in a comprehensive, coordinated, and collective approach to overcome this public health challenge.

“We are asked to do our part. But such a call, as important as it is, does not come without pain. And it certainly does not come without a sense of deep sacrifice.

“You understand those feelings better than most. We know all of you have tirelessly worked for moments like these – to be recognized as champions in the sports you have passionately pursued for as long as you can remember.

“Each day, you are called to lead; to be an example for your teammates and all those who cheer you on; and to give hope to those who see to be like you one day.

“As coaches, you invest your heart, soul, and everything you have in the success of your student-athletes. As staff members, you toil in support of your teams, not for glory, but for the chance to support a department striving for excellence; to be recognized as the best, both on the court and field and in the classroom. And our alumni and fans invest so much to support you along that journey.

“As coaches and staff, you teach our students – and they teach you – what it means to be a member of a team, and in so doing, part of something greater than self.

“In an important sense, you are being called to lead again. You are asked to sacrifice to serve a greater good — the public health of our campus, community, and country.

“While it is undeniably the right thing to do, it also undeniably comes with a great deal of pain and loss. And those feelings should not be neglected in this moment, either.

“It is almost unfathomable to think about these lost opportunities for you and for your fellow student-athletes at UK and across the country. Student-athletes, coaches, and the staffs who support you, work so hard for that one shot – that one moment in time to stand out as a champion.

“But there are more important things. And, certainly, there are other ways we lead and other ways we express a champion’s spirit. This is such a moment.

“We always have believed college athletics is a force for good in our world. In ordinary times, you inspire with your achievements in competition, in the classroom, and in communities. These are not ordinary times. We have never been in a position to do more good than we are right now – by making this difficult decision and accepting it with grace.

“The decisions made at the conference level, and now by the NCAA, are in the best interest of the health, safety, and well-being of all of you. They are in the best interest of all those who share in our joy and passion when they watch you perform at such a high level.

“That does not salve the disappointment and does not make the moment easier or less painful. But it does increase our pride in you, what you mean for this University, and for this Commonwealth that looks to you.

“Thank you for leading once again.

“Finally, we recognize you have many questions. Please know that we are working on your behalf to answer them and that those answers will be communicated as quickly as possible.”

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