Despite some challenges, the 2021 fall season of high school sports was awesome.

PMG PHOTO: MILES VANCE - La Salle junior Emilia Warta celebrates a goal during the Class 5A state championship game against Wilsonville back on Nov. 13.It was a helluva fall season.

I know, I know, "helluva" is not a word, but I don't like swearing in print.

Nonetheless, the 2021 fall high school sports season — as much of it as I saw anyway — was awesome.

Here's why. While we in Oregon are still dealing with indoor mask mandates, social distancing requirements and more, even the most cautious among us has to admit that things are better pandemic-wise now than they were at the start of the fall season.

Miles VanceAt the end of August and start of September, there were a couple days when Oregon reported 2,500 new COVID cases in a single day with as many as 100 of those hospitalized. At its most recent high point on Nov. 1, Oregon saw 1,000 new cases with just 49 of those hospitalized.

The point here is that, coming off the losses of 2019 and 2020 — with all of last year's high school sports relegated to three six-week seasons played in the spring of 2021 — the 2021 fall season was pretty normal.

Teams played full seasons, outdoor mask mandates were dropped mid-season and COVID interruptions were the exception rather than the rule. For the biggest football games of the year, the grandstands were packed, the students were jacked and — oftentimes — the world looked much like it did before March of 2019.

While Pamplin Media Group is still battling back from pandemic-related losses — we have less than 50% of the sports personnel we had before April 1 of 2019 and I'm still limited to just 32 hours of work per week — and dealing with print deadlines that make high school sports coverage more difficult, it was awesome to see so many great teams, so many great athletes and so many great events in 2021.

Because of the aforementioned deadline challenges, my in-person event coverage was mainly relegated to Wednesdays through Fridays, with Saturdays thrown into the mix during the playoffs.

Despite that, I got to see 62 different events during the three months of the 2021 fall season and took untold thousands of photographs. By way of example, I shot more than 1,000 images at just one event — the West Linn-Tualatin football semifinal on Nov. 26 — the last fall event I covered.

I also wrote previews for every one of the 70 varsity teams at the 11 schools I cover — Lake Oswego, Lakeridge, West Linn, Oregon City, Clackamas, Nelson, Wilsonville, La Salle, Putnam, Milwaukie and Gladstone — and drove almost 2,000 miles on my travels to those far-flung schools.

For me, though, this was the best part. In addition to the hundreds and hundreds of athletes recognized in my game stories, features and columns from the three months of the 2021 fall season, I got to conduct more than 200 interviews with athletes from the 11 high schools I cover, along with athletes from some of those schools' opponents.

For me, that's what it's all about. It's about honoring the great athletes from those 11 schools, recording their accomplishments as often as I can, shooting and publishing photos that highlight those athletes' great ability, and giving them the chance to tell their stories along the way.

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