There was a moment during Fort Plain’s preparation for the 2020 high school baseball season when veteran coach Craig Phillips pulled aside former longtime assistant Dale Smith.
“I told him this would probably be my last year,” Phillips said.
The year, one that was supposed to be so full of wins and championships for the senior-heavy Hilltoppers, never happened when schools closed up and spring sports were postponed and later cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It was extremely disappointing not having a season this year,” said Phillips, the state’s all-time public schools win leader with 798. “One thing [that] it’s bad for us [coaches], but the kids.”
Phillips said he isn’t sure if he’ll ever be coaching high school kids again. This season would have been the hall of famer’s 47th with the Hilltoppers’ baseball program.
“I don’t know,” said Phillips, who guided his 2007 and 2016 teams to state championships. “We’ve got a new superintendent. I don’t know if I’ll be rehired. My wife has a health issue. I’m not sure what will happen.”
So much has happened since Fort Plain’s last baseball game ended with a state Class C quarterfinal loss to Ticonderoga last June. There’s so much unknown still ahead.
“A lot of things can change,” the 69-year-old Phillips said. “There may not be sports next year, and not only because of the virus, but the money situation [in the school district]. You’ve got to live one day at a time.”
Phillips was anticipating a lot of special days with his baseball team, which would have included nine seniors. They helped secure the program’s 12th Section II championship last season as part of a 21-1 campaign. The year before, their efforts helped Fort Plain make it all the way to the state Class D title game.
“We went to Cooperstown the other day and got bats for the seniors with their names on them,” Phillips said. “We put signs on their lawns that said, ‘Home of a proud Hilltopper.’ Four of the nine had tears in their eyes.”
The best statistics they put up were of the classroom variety, with Nate Beam, Brady Fureno, Tayler Gifford and Josh Nellis finishing in the top-10 academically in Fort Plain’s senior class.
“They took their lumps as freshmen and played pretty good as sophomores,” Phillips said. “They were even better as juniors. They were waiting for their senior year, and just like that, it’s over.”
Phillips said he won’t be conducting his summer baseball camp due to the safety protocols that would be necessary in the coronavirus environment.
“I’m so bored, I’m praying for the lawn to grow,” Phillips chucked, before taking a more serious tone. “Usually, I’d be up at school working on the field and getting ready for my camp. I’ve got 57 signed up, but I can’t see doing it if everyone has to stay away from everyone. It’s really too bad. We’ve had the camp for over 40 years, and we’d bring in kids from all over.”