BYU tennis captain David Ball was left dumbfounded following a shocking announcement from the NCAA on March 12, 2020. “Today, NCAA President Mark Emmert and the Board of Governors canceled all remaining winter and spring NCAA championships. This decision is based on the evolving COVID-19 public health threat (and) our ability to ensure the events do not contribute to the spread of the pandemic.”
Ball, who worked his entire life to compete at the collegiate level, unexpectedly had his fourth-and-final season stripped away from him without notice.
“I was devastated,” Ball said. “You work your entire life to compete at this level and seemingly overnight it all gets stripped away.”
Ball launched an Instagram page called “Untold Athletes” on March 16, 2020, just four days after the NCAA’s announcement canceling college sports.
“I started Untold Athletes because I realized there were so many amazing athletes with inspiring stories who had sacrificed so much to get to the level they were at,” Ball said. “It was tragic to us that many of them wouldn’t get the recognition and closure they deserved so we created the platform to change that.”
In just two weeks, the Untold Athletes Instagram page went from zero followers to 1,200 followers, connecting athletes across the country going through similar struggles. The platform has since tripled its following to over 3,700 followers.
Untold Athletes is a platform dedicated to sharing the inspiring stories of athletes everywhere, not just those whose collegiate seasons were cut short by COVID-19.
This new community is a place where “athletes can support other athletes and be uplifted while doing so,” Ball said.
Though the community was started by BYU students, including the ones featured below, athletes from across the world have used this platform to voice their stories.
Jake Toolson – BYU Men’s Basketball
Jake Toolson was the first athlete to be featured on Untold Athletes. Toolson began his career at BYU as a freshman before deciding it was in his best interest to transfer to Utah Valley to play under then-head coach Mark Pope.
Pope took over as head coach at BYU in 2019 and brought some of his players along with him from UVU, including Toolson. BYU made a great run at the end of the 2019-20 season, beating No. 2 Gonzaga in front of a sold-out audience at the Marriott Center in Provo and punching its ticket to the NCAA Tournament, only to have the season canceled as a result of the pandemic.
“Growing up it was always my dream to play at BYU,” Toolson said in his Untold Athletes story. “I loved the Cougars and would dream of the day where I would be wearing the blue and white jersey. As my dreams became a reality I quickly realized that it wasn’t exactly what I pictured as a kid. Adjusting to college life on my own was really difficult for me. I was faced with some mental health challenges and ultimately decided to transfer to UVU and play for Coach Pope.”
“I am grateful for the adversity I have faced,” Toolson said. “It has allowed me to grow as a person. I am glad that everything came full circle and I finished my career as a Cougar, making the dream I had as a kid come true.”
Toolson signed a free-agent contract with the Utah Jazz and participated in the team’s preseason training camp and games prior to being waived when the regular season began.
Shaylee Gonzales – BYU Women’s Basketball
Before receiving the news that she sustained a season-ending injury prior to her sophomore season in 2019, Shaylee Gonzales was the second-highest scoring freshman in women’s college basketball and was invited to attend a Team USA basketball camp.
“I was on cloud nine,” Gonzales said in a video for Untold Athletes. “Then the doctor told me the worst news, the worst news any athlete could ever hear. I had torn my ACL and meniscus and I would be out for nine months.”
Gonzales has three years left at BYU and has since returned to the court with the goal to help the Cougars win the West Coast Conference all three years and make deep runs in the NCAA Tournament. Ultimately, Gonzales hopes to continue playing basketball at a professional level either in the WNBA or in Europe.
Will Stanley – BYU Men’s Volleyball
BYU setter Will Stanley, who is tenth among the team’s all-time assists leaders, led BYU the men’s volleyball team to a No. 1 ranking in the nation before his senior season as a Cougar was cut short.
“Being the best team in the country was something we strived for as a team this year,” Stanley said in his Untold Athletes post. “Having our season cut short was definitively one of the hardest things I’ve had to deal with at BYU. Knowing it was for all of the right reasons but still having the reality set in that my career was over took some time to accept.”
Untold Athletes is a platform for athletes everywhere to share their stories. Whether an athlete shares the experience of Ball and Stanley having seasons ended prematurely, Gonzales suffering a season-ending injury, or Toolson struggling with mental health before making it to the top, everyone has a story to tell.
BYU women’s soccer player and Untold Athletes contributor Natalie Ball described Untold Athletes as a way for athletes everywhere to feel validated. “It is a platform designed to provide comfort and empathy for athletes and other individuals who may have faced adversity for one reason or another.”
Follow @UntoldAthletes on Instagram to learn the inspiring stories of some of the nation’s top performers.