It's been a hell of a year.
In the world in general and for high school sports in particular, I'll say it again — it's been a hell of a year.
In many ways and for many reasons, I'm glad it's over. And I'm not the only one who feels that way — I've heard the same thing from some parents, coaches, other reporters and even some high school athletes.
And who could blame them? After the response to the COVID-19 pandemic wiped out the end of the 2019-20 winter season, canceled the 2020 spring season, upset the summer of 2020, then delayed, delayed again and finally shortened the fall, winter and spring seasons for 2020-21, many people are just exhausted. Even some of the most ardent supporters and lovers of high school sports — a group I definitely belong to — feel that way.
To understand why, remember that a year ago, even with the pandemic still raging across the country, most states across the U.S. were getting ready to kick off their high school football seasons — not to mention all their other fall sports — as normal.
But not in Oregon. In Oregon, despite the fact that our state regularly landed among the four best (and almost never worse that 10th) in the country for COVID infection and death rates, Governor Kate Brown and the Oregon Health Authority decided that high school sports would not kick off at the beginning of September.
While some states delayed the start of the fall season until October, Oregon took a different path. Our state waited through October. And November. And December.
Then, when everyone expected high school sports would begin in January, we in Oregon waited some more. Finally, we got to February and — wait for it — we waited even longer.
When high school sports finally began at the start of March, Oregon's high school athletes got three six-week seasons that ended without normal playoffs or state championships.
Despite all that, Oregon's high school athletes would not be held down. They would not be stopped, would not be denied and would not give up on their chances to play the sports they loved.
While the state did almost everything it could to make the 2020-21 high school sports seasons the worst in Oregon history — including keeping mask mandates on our athletes longer than any other state (with the best of intentions in protecting our high school athletes, their teachers, coaches, parents and grandparents, I assume) — the athletes and their teams did everything they could to get the most out of their shortened, masked, handicapped 2021 seasons.
Along the way, there were some amazing individual performances, some great teams and some great decisions about how to handle the "postseason." This year, the postseason basically meant the sixth week of each season when the Oregon School Activities Association — the organization that runs state championships in "normal" years — gave control back to the state's schools.
Looking back to the "fall" season — it was played in March and April this year — the first bit of postseason normalcy came with the Three Rivers League district cross country meet at Fernhill Park, then was followed by culminating week playoffs by the state's top volleyball, soccer and football teams.
The spring season — which this year followed fall play — benefitted from almost flawless weather which meant that the state's high school baseball, softball, track, tennis, golf and lacrosse athletes got the most out of their shortened six-week seasons, a near necessity after the state's athletes missed the entire 2020 spring campaign.
Spring season teams did their best to mirror normal playoffs, too, with culminating week activities that included district events, big-team showdowns and de facto state championships.
Finally came the long delayed winter season, which was moved to the end of 2021 in hopes that the pandemic would wane and allow the various indoor, full-contact sports (basketball, wrestling, swimming, and from fall season, water polo) to take place.
And take place they did, finishing with their own culminating week events that included district and state wrestling, multiple bracketed basket mini-tournaments, and late-season rivalry matchups.
While everyone looks forward to a more normal 2021-22 sports year, let's take a moment to celebrate the great athletes, great performances and great efforts that went into making 2021 as good as it was.
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