By KEITH TAYLOR, Kentucky Today
LEXINGTON — Tom Leach can’t help but wonder what would have transpired if the COVID-19 crisis didn’t bring sports to a sudden halt earlier this month.
Like many in the sports profession, Leach was busy preparing for the postseason after calling Kentucky’s thrilling 71-70 comeback win at Florida on March 7 in Gainesville. By March 13, the season came to a screeching halt. Kentucky finished with a 25-6 record and was the top seed in the Southeastern Conference Tournament.
“You keep having those thoughts of what you wish you should be doing this time of the year,” Leach said Sunday. “The fun part of the job is getting into March Madness and your team was a game, two or three and keep advancing. You miss that rush of excitement — which is the big part of why you got into the business.”
Much like Leach, Western Kentucky University color analyst Hal Schmitt was in the midst of preparing for the postseason.
“We just didn’t know,” Schmitt said. “There were some levels of severity to it, but we just didn’t know the depths at that point. The fact that had of the tournaments were being canceled, We knew there was something very obviously wrong and as the days went on, we did we get a better grip of the depth and breadth of this virus. Now we sit a week and a half later, still not knowing what the end is going to look like or what is going to be developed to combat this awful virus.”
Schmitt was with the team in Plano, Texas when the Conference-USA Tournament was canceled. The Hilltoppers were scheduled to play either Florida Atlantic or UAB in their first-round game. Schmitt said the Hilltoppers were “very resilient” all year despite being “limited in numbers.”
“They came back time after time and beat teams, which made it exciting and kept people in the seats until the final buzzer, ” the of the Hilltoppers, who finished 20-10 on the season. “It’s just unfortunate, but just for WKU, but for all of college sports, high school sports, and all other activities in schools like this.”
Greg Stotelmyer, the longtime voice of Eastern Kentucky University athletics, is a handful of announcers who called a game in the postseason. He called two games in the Ohio Valley Conference Tournament in Evansville. The Colonels (16-17) defeated Tennessee State in the opening round, before falling to eventual tournament champion Belmont in the semifinals.
“I’m glad the Colonels were able to play a couple of games,” Stotelmyer said. “After losing in the semifinals to Belmont, EKU had indicated it was going to accept a bid to the CIT. It’s unfortunate the Colonels didn’t get to play again, but that’s nothing like the pain I image Belmont and other mid-major teams felt after securing the conference’s automatic bid. I feel horrible for the players, but I understand and support the decision made by the NCAA.”
Stotelmyer also is part of the radio crew that covers the KHSAA Boys and Girls Sweet Sixteen and planned on calling the boys’ state championship game last weekend.
“Instead, I spent the afternoon cleaning out the gutters at my house,” he said. “Things changed quickly.”
All three broadcasters have made adjustments to their normal routines. Schmitt has spent more time with his grandchildren, while Stotelmyer took a camping trip with his wife and one of his granddaughters.
Stotelymyer also has been doing “a lot of small jobs that you put off during the non-sports season” among other interests.
“I’ve caught up on watching some of my old-time TV shows,” he said.
To adjust, Leach has focused on his daily radio show which has already switched into summer mode, coming up with different topics of interest, especially when it comes to the Wildcats.
“I’m used to doing that in the summer when there are no games,” he said. “It’s not so much of a show focused on sports, but we take a look back at previous games and a look ahead of the upcoming season, recruiting and all of those kinds of things.
“We had to get in that mode earlier than usual and plus, realize that no one is focused in the upcoming season yet until we can kind of get a light at the end of the tunnel with what are dealing with in this medical crisis. Once that happens, hopefully, sooner rather than later, people will really be craving the hope and looking ahead to the start and resumption of what sports will bring.”
In addition to Schmitt and Stotelmyer, Leach has spent quality time with his family during the ongoing coronavirus crisis.
“We’ve had more family dinners this week than we’ve had in a while,” he said. “At least that part has been nice.”
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Keith Taylor is sports editor for Kentucky Today. Reach him at email@example.com or twitter @keithtaylor21.