By Russell Vannozzi for The Robertson County Connection
The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted baseball as much as any sport, and the fallout is just beginning.
High school and college seasons were canceled shortly after they started. MLB Spring Training was stopped and has yet to resume as owners and players squabble over money.
Now, college baseball programs are facing a roster crunch of epic proportions thanks to a shortened MLB Draft and the logjam created by players being granted an extra year of eligibility.
One group has been especially affected: unsigned 2020 high school seniors.
Many were planning to use the spring baseball season as a final audition and have been left in the cold. Recent White House Heritage graduate Logan Gann is one of them.https://caf33354c1edea54ed4b7e8d9aaf8351.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-37/html/container.html
“I talked to a couple (college) coaches who said they would come to some games, but that didn’t happen,” said Gann, who hit .462 in 2019 and hopes to walk on at Tennessee Tech. “We didn’t have any games.”
The anatomy of the problem
Put simply: there is an oversupply of baseball players with college eligibility.
In a normal year the MLB Draft would have lasted 40 rounds (approx. 1,200 selections) and graduating college seniors would have exhausted their eligibility.
This year the draft was shortened to just five rounds (160 selections) as MLB owners try to cut expenses in the wake of canceled games and lost revenue. That means hundreds of high school and college players who could have gone pro are now stuck in the college ranks.
Plus, the NCAA, NAIA and NJCAA each granted all spring sports athletes an extra year of eligibility because college seasons were cut short.
In turn, a roster frenzy was created. Nearly 1,000 players have entered the NCAA transfer portal, according to D1Baseball.com.
“It’s a snowball effect,” said Colton Provey, director of scouting for Prep Baseball Report Tennessee. “There’s not a whole lot of winners.”
The NCAA has since eliminated its 35-man roster limit for the 2020-21 school year, and the NAIA and NJCAA don’t have as strict of roster limits (some also have junior varsity teams).
“Some colleges aren’t sure where their own players are going,” White House Heritage coach Chris Logsdon said. “I think everybody is kind of looking at each other and asking, ‘What are we going to do?’”
With more seniors returning to school and plenty of proven transfers for college coaches to choose from, the market for unsigned high school seniors has dried up.https://caf33354c1edea54ed4b7e8d9aaf8351.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-37/html/container.html
“It’s sad for a lot of reasons,” Old Hickory Baseball Club coach Robbie Sinks said. “I feel the worst for high school and college seniors. But college seniors got a little reprieve – they can come back. High school seniors didn’t get a reprieve.”
Even those who have signed are entering different circumstances than they were expecting. Incoming players will compete with more returnees for limited spots in the lineup – the trickle-down effect of an added year of eligibility.
“If a kid has signed, they are going into a deep, deep pond,” Sinks said. “Normally it would just be a pond. It’s a different ballgame now.”
Added Provey: “It makes it tough on those high school senior guys. Unintentionally, they’re competing with guys that may be three or four years older, which is tough sledding.”
College options limited
Former Hendersonville pitcher Caid Sanders is in a similar position as Gann. Though he was hoping to earn a baseball scholarship at a smaller school, Sanders has an academic scholarship at Alabama and will attempt to join the Crimson Tide as a walk-on while studying marine biology.
“If I don’t make the team, I will still probably end up going to school there and just play club baseball,” he said. “But right now, goal No. 1 is making their team.”
Not everyone is fortunate to have a backup plan at a university.
Old Hickory Baseball Club has two unsigned grads – Charlie Albamont (Father Ryan) and Joey Soporowski (White House) – who have yet to hear from any colleges. With no scholarship opportunities, both are considering trying out for junior college programs.
“The amount of scholarships they can give out, especially this late, is really small,” Soporowski said. “That’s one of the hardest things.”
Throwbacks Baseball Club has five unsigned seniors including Hayes Biemesderfer (Northwest), Jerrett Edmondson (Sycamore), Case Fedun (Overton), Sam Galbraith (homeschool) and Grant Pinson (MBA). Three of them have college offers or interest.
Throwbacks coach Michael Brown feels the pain of late signees and is doing everything he can to get his players noticed. Brown inked with Trevecca in May 2014 after completing his high school career at Sycamore.
“I understand the pressure and the stress,” he said. “My job is to alleviate as much of that stress as possible.”
Dreams still alive
Sanders and his former Hendersonville teammates have a sour taste in their mouths. They wanted to finish their playing careers on their own terms.
At least one classmate who wasn’t planning to play college baseball – Hendersonville infielder Andruw Stratton – is now trying to walk on at Chattanooga State Community College.
“It’s really hard to end your baseball career like we did,” Sanders said. “If you can (play), everybody wants to keep playing.”
Others have found motivation in the lack of college interest. Soporowski, a left-handed pitcher, has increased his velocity from 75 to 84 mph over the last year and continues to add strength in the weight room.
“It just makes me want to work harder,” he said.
The summer baseball season has also taken on an increased importance. It’s one final chance for 2020 grads to prove themselves to college coaches.
“Usually summer baseball is pretty laid back,” Brown said. “But since these kids didn’t have a senior season of school ball, it’s more important. It’s crunch time now for some of these kids.”
The college dream won’t necessarily be over for players who don’t earn offers by the end of the summer.
BC Athletics, based in Knoxville and owned by former MLB player Brett Carroll, recently launched a post-grad baseball program that allows unsigned 2020 players to improve their skills, play against college teams and maintain their eligibility.
“It’s not the end of the road if they don’t get an offer,” Brown said. “They can go to a post-grad program and get bigger, stronger and faster and still have a chance.”
However, each unsigned player will eventually have to face reality. Every baseball career ends one day.
Thanks to the pandemic, that day could come sooner than expected for some.
“I’m still hoping to play,” said Albamont, the utility player from Father Ryan. “If it doesn’t happen, then it doesn’t happen. Maybe it wasn’t meant to be.
“But I’m still trying.”
By Kris Freeman for White House High School
(ALBUQUERQUE, NM) — Two White House High School students were scheduled to make a trip out west in June for the 2020 National Speech and Debate Tournament, but despite the competition being moved to a virtual ceremony, Madison Freeman and Rebekah Langford still showed up big.
The National Speech and Debate Tournament was moved from Albuquerque to an online virtual format, where competitors submitted their speeches via video and then watched the rounds through Zoom, as each stage progressed to the finals. The finals were announced Saturday, June 20th.
Prior to the event, both girls were named Academic All-Americans by the National Speech and Debate Association.
Competing individually, the WHHS juniors advanced to the top 60 nationally in two categories, the top 30 in one category each, and then Langford advanced to the top 14 in that event. Langford was a semifinalist in storytelling, and an octafinalist in prose reading. She originally qualified for nationals in the informative speaking category in March. This was her second consecutive trip to Nationals, after attending with Danielle Williams in duo in 2019.
Freeman advanced to the quarterfinals in expository speaking and was an octafinalist in prepared prompt speaking. She originally qualified for the national tournament in March in original oratory. Freeman made her first national tournament appearance, but was a defending state champion in Tennessee in original oratory as a sophomore.
District and state finals were cancelled this year in Tennessee due to COVID-19 restrictions, but Langford and Freeman were the highest-ranked juniors in the state of Tennessee in speech competition. Langford was ranked fifth in total points and Freeman was sixth, and all four students above them in the state of Tennessee are graduating seniors.
Though they compete in different events, the pair will start the 2020-21 academic year ranked 1-2 in the state of Tennessee in total event points.
Each category had between 250-300 competitors to start, and is narrowed to 60, 30, 14 and then six for the finals.
The White House High School Speech Team is coached by Emily Higdon. Team members are: (L-R) Sydnee Bailey, Madison Freeman, Emily Tiepelman, Mrs. Emily Higdon, Danielle Williams, Caleb Dorris and Rebekah Langford.
By Russell Vannozzi for The Robertson County Connection
Harrison Autman-Springer didn’t intend to become famous on TikTok.
When he opened an account on the burgeoning social media platform last fall, he was just looking to show off his outgoing personality. It was something fun he could do when he wasn’t busy playing basketball, football and running track at White House High School.
Less than a year later, millions of users have resonated with Autman-Springer’s content. His account (@_harrisontochill_) has 624,000 followers and his videos have garnered nearly 10 million likes – much to his surprise.
“I did it for fun at first,” he said. “I used to make jokes like, ‘Why do people make TikToks? They don’t even look cool.’ Then I started seeing people doing funny ones and sports ones.
“Now you see that it’s a big platform for bringing up new artists and actors. It really provides (opportunities) if you think outside the box.”
TikTok, launched in September 2016, is a social networking service dedicated to short videos. Users can make their own dance, lip-sync, comedy or talent clips to entertain their followers and gain new ones.
Autman-Springer tries to post a variety of videos. That has included everything from basketball highlights to dance challenges to his mother berating him for not doing chores.
“I think people enjoy my videos because I’m just being myself,” he said. “That’s the message with my page. I don’t go on the app and try to act like any other TikToker. People like real and authentic videos.”
His most popular clip, posted on Feb. 20, racked up about four million views and 800,000 likes. He made dramatic facial expressions, even crossing his eyes, along with the audio of a rap song.
The audience loved it.
“It’s just goofiness,” he said. “You see it on your page and you’re like, ‘What the heck?’”
TikTok has become more than just a creative outlet for Autman-Springer. It’s also a revenue stream. He said he has made up to $2,000 per month by collaborating with and promoting other artists on his account.
“I know there’s a whole lot of people out there just like me who want to make money off doing funny stuff,” he said. “I’m really just trying to help others out.”
Autman Springer, who graduated from White House on June 25, didn’t take theatre in high school, though he could see himself as an actor or a model. In fact, he won several talent auditions and was set for a modeling interview with H&M before the coronavirus pandemic hit in March.
But he also has a future on the basketball court. Autman-Springer averaged 8.7 points, 5.2 rebounds and 1.5 assists and was named to the All-Sumner County third team as a senior last season. He plans to make his college decision soon.
In the meantime, Autman-Springer is hoping to use his newfound TikTok fame to springboard his other social media accounts. He now has 10,000 followers on Instagram and 600 subscribers on YouTube, where he plans to begin posting longer videos in the future.
Autman-Springer said he prides himself on being different. That strategy has worked on TikTok, and It may even lead to a full-time career in the entertainment industry.
“I’ve been making videos and trying to do something different from everyone else,” he said. “I don’t want to be that dude that does the same videos. I like switching it up and bringing entertainment to the table.”
Photos by Kris Freeman for White House High School. Click on any photo to open the gallery.
White House High School 2020 Commencement Ceremony on June 25, 2020 at Long Hollow Baptist Church at 7 p.m. Gallery #2 contains diploma presentations.