Veteran Cavs coach Banner planning for 'dramatically different' sports world

Kevin Mays • Jun 3, 2020 at 1:00 PM

WISE — Hank Banner has coached baseball at Virginia-Wise for 23 years.

He’d never had a season end like the 2020 season.

On March 11, Banner’s Cavaliers took a 10-9 win over King. On March 12, the season was over.

The COVID-19 pandemic was sweeping across the country and the NCAA canceled the Division I men’s basketball tournament.

“When they canceled March Madness, I knew they weren’t going to let us play,” Banner said.

The coach, however, kept his feelings to himself during his team’s practice on March 12, waiting until UVA Wise athletic director Kendall Rainey got official word from the NCAA, the South Atlantic Conference and school officials.

The painful news came swiftly.

“It was a long night. It was probably about 7:30 or 8 that night before I told them,” Banner said of informing his players their season was over. “We didn’t get out until 12:30 or 1 a.m.

“It was a pretty big shock to them. The finality of it kind of hit everybody hard.

“For the seniors, it was the end and they knew it,” he added. “It just came so fast.”


The end of the season, the Cavs’ first in the SAC, came after a solid start by the team.

In the preseason poll, UVA Wise was predicted to finish last in the 12-team league — but the Cavs had other plans.

Banner — the winningest coach in UVA Wise history with 478 career victories, including a 26-win season and the school’s first NCAA Division II postseason appearance last year — had the 2020 Cavs off to an 11-10 overall start, 3-6 in the SAC, when the season stopped. Included in those wins were a league win over Mars Hill and a doubleheader sweep of SAC power Tusculum.

“Our first four games were horrendous,” Banner said. “But our mistakes were things that could be fixed.

“It was good to see us get off to a good start in the league. The SAC is tough top to bottom, but I told our guys we were not going in there to roll over for anybody. We didn’t go in there with that mindset.”


Banner looks forward to next season, but he knows it will be far different from his previous years leading the Cavs.

The NCAA has approved a proposal for Division II schools to play a limited schedule for all sports in the 2020-21 season.

For baseball, the magic number is 40 games.

Banner has been taking part in online meetings with his fellow SAC coaches to discuss possible strategies for next spring.

“We’re looking at playing fewer games (overall) and possibly having more conference games,” Banner noted. “Some of the big concerns right now, in addition to player safety, are travel and budgets.

“And there’s questions like hotels. Will there be enough rooms in a hotel for teams to stay in and will there be restaurants that accommodate an entire team? Those are all questions right now.”

As far as play on the field, Banner is optimistic.

He hopes to have a few seniors from this past season back as fifth-year players under the NCAA’s one-time rule that gives student-athletes participating in spring sports an extra season of eligibility after losing the majority of 2020 to the pandemic.

“We hope to have five coming back and there’s two that are still weighing their options,” Banner noted.

The coach is sympathetic to those who make the choice not to return.

“Kids love to play the game, but there comes a time when it is counterproductive to your life plans, and I understand that,” he said.

Banner looks for several underclassmen to return and is happy with his recruiting class for next spring, which includes Twin Springs standout Justin Reed.

Because of the pandemic restrictions, Banner and his coaches have not been able to be in personal contact with recruits, but they have continued to sign players.

“On paper, the recruiting class looks pretty good,” he said.

Regardless of what spring 2021 looks like for UVA Wise baseball and all other sports, Banner said it will be different.

“It’s going to be weird for a while,” he said. “It’s just going to be strange with the way things will have to operate. There’s just so many unknowns still.

“Sports as we know it, post COVID-19, will be dramatically different as we knew it. And it may be that way for a while.”

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