FAYETTEVILLE – Sydney Parr and Braxton Burnside don’t need an extra year playing Arkansas Razorbacks women’s softball. But they are elated bestowed the option should they feel the need. Like all collegiate spring sports athletes with their seasons cut short and canceled because of the worldwide coronavirus pandemic, Parr and Burnside can return to their sport in 2021 with the same collegiate athletic eligibility they had in 2020.
That means after playing every game for Coach Courtney Deifel’s 19-6 Razorbacks in 2020, senior center fielder Parr, of North Little Rock, can return as a 2021 senior. Shortstop Burnside of Paragould, a fourth-year junior having lettered in 2017 and 2018 at the University of Missouri then redshirting in 2019 transferring to Arkansas, also played every game in 2020. She could play two more UA seasons starting again as a 2021 junior.
Their academics prepare them moving on before their extra year. Parr graduates this May with a degree in broadcast journalism. She has interned the last two summers with the community relations department of the New York Mets and then with the Major League Baseball Network and its studios in Secaucus N.J.
The tragedy of the coronavirus devastating New York and New Jersey hits home. “There is a piece of me that is still attracted to New York,” Parr said. “I still know people that live there from my two internships and I really hate what they are going through. It’s heartbreaking.”
Parr planned on a great softball season, which she was having, .333 batting leadoff with 13 walks and a team-leading five stolen bases for Deifel’s nationally 24th-ranked Razorbacks then hit the broadcast job market. That market suspends now like most everything in our stay at home world. So back home in North Little Rock with UA classes shuttered on campus in Fayetteville and finishing the semester online, she’ll ponder grad school and another softball season though not ready to commit.
“I think the most important thing was first to have the NCAA say yes to giving all Division I student-athletes the extra year of eligibility and I’m so extremely elated that they did that,” Parr said. “From there, there’s still a lot of logistics to be worked out.”
At the UA, Burnside has completed the communications degree she began at Mizzou. This spring she’s begun towards a masters degree in human resources. On the field she was putting together a masterful season. Burnside hit .392 with three doubles, five home runs and 20 RBI before the season was canceled before their first SEC home series March 13-15 against Georgia. Both Burnside and Parr said the abrupt ending to a promising season was “shocking and confusing” but of course comes now with the perspective of the pandemic’s worldwide threat hitting home in the U.S.
Burnside learned that it’s not just the coronavirus that threatens. She was in Paragould when the recent tornado hit Jonesboro. “Jonesboro’s no more than 15 minutes from where I’m from,” Burnside said. “It was heading our way and I wound up having to go to my boyfriend’s grandma’s house. There’s actually debris everywhere all over my house and all over Paragould. I’m just thankful for the house and roof over my head. But those in Jonesboro that weren’t so lucky… Thankfully nobody was hurt too bad and no lives were taken. I think it just kind of puts into perspective how we take things for granted.”
At one point, with Deifel not yet at Arkansas and so strongly recruited by former Missouri Coach Ehren Earleywine that she committed to Mizzou as a Paragould High sophomore, Burnside took for granted she would letter four Mizzou years with a Mizzou degree. But when Earleywine was fired before her sophomore season began, Burnside played that Mizzou season then met Deifel and came home to Arkansas.
“We met in Coach Deifel’s office and I just told them, ‘I know this is where I want to be,” Burnside said. “To be able to finish my career as a Razorback is pretty special.” Having the extra year option becomes extra special though Burnside also isn’t ready to commit. “After my fifth year, if I want to go ahead and extend my career into that sixth year, then I will most certainly do it,” Burnside said. “I’m just not going to make the decision yet.”
Given the home workouts each described, expect Burnside whole Hog 2021 returned. And don’t be shocked next spring to see Parr with a bat instead of a microphone. “I’m well prepared and staying in great softball shape, Parr said.