Omahri Sturdivant, like so many senior college athletes across the country, thought his athletic career had been brought to an abrupt end last month when the NCAA canceled its winter and spring championships due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the cancellation of the spring sports season followed soon after.
For Sturdivant, an Amsterdam High School graduate and senior on the UAlbany men’s track and field team, the cord was yanked on what was shaping up to be his best season yet. He’d won the America East Conference championship in the triple jump during the winter indoor season, and was a little more than a week away from starting his outdoor season with the Great Danes in Puerto Rico when everything got canceled.
“Nobody could’ve expected something like this,” Sturdivant said in a phone interview Wednesday.
But for Sturdivant and other athletes like him, there’s a ray of hope. The NCAA approved an extra season of eligibility for athletes from spring sports due to the canceled season.
Many seniors won’t take advantage of it, opting instead to graduate as usual and move on to the job market.
Sturdivant’s planning to graduate as scheduled this spring, but he’s also taking steps to get his final season of competition back. He’s applying to graduate school, and if accepted, he’ll exercise his extra year of eligibility and compete in 2021.
“It’s a one-year master’s program for education,” Sturdivant said. “Hopefully, I can get in. If not, I’ll probably just find a job and work with what I’ve got.”
The chance to come back is consolation for the standout long and triple jumper, who hit a personal best of 50 feet, 4.5 inches during the indoor season and was hoping to play a major part in the Great Danes’ team success this spring.
“We did a lot of good things indoor, and I think a lot of good things could’ve come out of the outdoor season,” he said. “It’s good to know that there’s a chance I’m going to get that season back.”
Sturdivant is one of many local athletes who are college seniors that are now trying to figure out what comes next.
He’s not the only one planning on a comeback next spring.
Broadalbin-Perth High School graduate Connor Pingitore was 18 games into his senior baseball season at Alfred State when the plug was pulled on the season as the Pioneers were in the midst of a trip through South Carolina and Florida.
Pingitore said his team was fortunate to get most of its non-conference schedule in, and while he was initially intending to graduate later this spring and move on, a couple weeks of stewing over the decision changed his mind.
“You only get so many years to play baseball,” Pingitore said in a phone interview Wednesday, “and I might as well take advantage of it while I could.”
Pingitore said it was a conversation with one of the team’s captains that cemented his decision.
“It just didn’t feel right not to be able to play conference baseball this year,” he said. “Not being able to compete in that conference and compete for a title, like we were supposed to this year, it didn’t sit well with me and it didn’t sit well with a lot of my teammates. I was like, ‘Man, I’ve got to come back.’ I’ve got to go out winning that conference next year. There’s no other way I want it.”
While Pingitore, who had a team-best .369 batting average at the time the season was canceled, said he was welcomed back “with open arms” when he informed Alfred State coach Mike Armstrong of his decision to return, making things work logistically took a little more effort.
Instead of graduating this spring, Pingitore said he was holding off on one class, giving him the ability to take the fall semester off before returning next spring to finish his degree and patrol centerfield for the Pioneers.
“We pulled some strings,” he said, “worked our way around it and figured out a pretty solid plan to make sure I’m able to come back.”
While Pingitore is determined to finish off his college baseball career, many of his fellow Division III athletes are in a position where that’s not a financially feasible option. Pingitore’s former Broadalbin-Perth teammate Tyler Graham, a senior pitcher at Stevenson University in Maryland, is in that boat.
Graham said in a phone interview Thursday that the best option for him is to graduate and get into the job market.
“I was going to [come back], but the financial part of it is just not there,” Graham said. “I need to start working to pay off my debt. I don’t want to be in any more debt than I already am.”
Graham, a lefthanded pitcher, had a 3.00 earned run average in 15 innings over three starts for the Mustangs, where he played under another Broadalbin-Perth product in head coach Dave Gage.
Coming to grips with the sudden end of his baseball career wasn’t easy.
“It was hard to find that out,” Graham said, “that I’ll probably never be able to play baseball again.”