COVID-19 has thrown a wrench into the lives of high school seniors all over the U.S - including athletics, where many seniors have been left in limbo as they try to determine where and how to take the next step. That's certainly the case for one such high school senior in Asheville.
Aileen Marquez never thought her journey to the next level would look like this.
“Basketball to me means a lot. Ever since I was little, I just found it to be a lifestyle,” Marquez said.
This time last year she was making plans to transfer from T.C. Roberson to Rabun Gap, a boarding school in north Georgia, where she hoped to improve her chances of receiving a scholarship to play college basketball.
For Marquez’s mother, Sandra Medellin, the transfer was a no-brainer.
“The coach offered us help, you know, like trying to place her in a college since we're not from here, and I'm not familiar with the process,” Medellin said. But Marquez’s love for basketball began long before. She started playing when she was 4-years old in Mexico.
At first, her parents didn’t know what to think.
“My husband and I were wondering why do you want to join the basketball team? I thought it was because there was that movie – High School Musical,” Medellin said. Her love went far beyond the musical. She played year-round in Mexico, and Marquez began to think about where basketball could take her. When her mom got a job teaching Spanish at an elementary school in Asheville, Marquez packed her bags. “She was the first one that said, ‘Yeah, I want to go.’ You know, and so in her mind, I think it's already set, you know, that she wants to study here,” Medellin said.
The pair moved in 2018 leaving behind Marquez’s father and brother.
She’s thankful for her experience at Rabun Gap, even though it ended up being a tough year on the court. “It’s just a memory that I’ll always keep with me,” Marquez said. She finished her senior season in February. College coaches were lined up to meet her in March.
Then came the COVID-19 pandemic.
Her school closed in the middle of spring break. Campus visits were canceled. She still doesn’t know if she will ever see her friends again. “I didn’t get a chance to tell them goodbye, and I feel really sad,” Marquez said. And her high school coach, Dale Earnhardt, is even more frustrated.
“It is a different world. Recruiting is hard enough the way it is, in a normal environment but throwing this, this virus in there, it definitely makes it challenging,” Earnhardt says. He was planning to work Marquez even harder in the spring to improve her chances of getting recruited. “This situation where we’re at has not only hurt her being on campuses and workouts for teams, but also just being on this campus where we could talk and also work out and work on her game,” Earnhardt said.
Some of her classmates are in an even trickier situation. John Bonney played basketball at Rabun Gap too. He also ran track, and he was looking forward to seeing where this season could take him.
“I don't have a chance to be on a track. I don’t know if I improved or not. I don’t have any times. There’s no place they can watch me. And I was planning on coming back really hard for track, and then we just never made it back,” Bonney said. Like Marquez, Bonney is sending out highlight videos and introduction emails to any coaches that will listen. Because of the pandemic, lots of athletes have more time to send these messages. With the influx of emails college coaches are getting, it makes it even harder for Bonney and Marquez to get noticed, says coach Earnhardt. “There's two goals with this process. You want to be able to play the game you love and you want to be able to get it paid for,” Earnhardt said.
Marquez’s dream of attending college in the US is now up in the air. She has some offers, but she doesn’t know if they’re right for her. Without a scholarship, she can’t afford to attend school in the fall.
“I would feel really sad because it’s something that I wouldn’t want, I’ll feel frustrated, and it would be really sad for me,” Marquez said.
What she isn’t doing is waiting by the phone for a call. Marquez is taking a step back and focusing on what she can control. She’s even getting creative in how she incorporates some heavy lifting into her workout. “So every time we go grocery shopping, I try to lift the bags that weigh more or just probably take all the groceries, and just trying to get stronger with that,” Marquez said.
COVID-19 can’t stop the clock from ticking. Marquez must make her decision on which school to attend by August 1st.