Apr. 30—In an academic year turned upside down by the COVID-19 pandemic, spring is just getting started, and the fall sports season is just ending.
And in a newspaper whose pages have been filled too often with gloom and grief for the past year, this brief and low-key resumption of sports from two seasons ago has offered a short, sweet reprieve. The country is getting back to normal, and if our local high school athletes are any indication, the kids are making the best of it.
It seems like an eternity ago that fall sports were preemptively put on hold last July. Doing so was the right call; the seasons would have started months before the first vaccinations were available.
And when talk began of resuming fall sports earlier this year, many doubted whether it was worth it. Some schools struggled to find enough participants, with many students wary of spreading the virus. The season would be brief, and would lack many of the things that make high school sports fun, such as crowds and postseason tournaments.
It was jarring to see local athletes compete in medical masks (when photos were even available; attendance restrictions included the media in many cases). But to their credit, the players and coaches did their part for public health. In our daily tracking of virus cases across Chenango, Delaware, Otsego and Schoharie counties, we have received no reports of outbreaks linked to local high school sports. That's not to say it can't happen: an outbreak in Utica that infected 20 was linked to a youth dance competition in mid-April. But the teams in our region deserve credit for taking the necessary precautions to salvage their seasons.
It turned out to be a season worth saving for Oneonta High School's boys and girls soccer teams, who finished with matching 9-0 records; the boys team doing so without allowing a single goal. Cherry Valley-Springfield boys soccer and Schenevus girls soccer also went unbeaten, among others. What better way to send off a senior class that has been through what these kids have endured?
"I am so thankful we got any opportunity to compete," Oneonta girls coach Jerry Mackey said, a sentiment echoed by nearly every coach who took part this spring. When the goal is simply getting kids' lives back to normal while teaching them the values of patience and diligence, every game is meaningful, postseason play or not.
Of course one can't help but wonder how a postseason would go for some of these teams, such as Delhi football, which beat Walton for the first time in a decade on the strength of a roster that featured 13 seniors. They include linebacker Bryce Bracchy, who didn't even need much of a season to break the school record for tackles set by 1975 graduate Gary Oliver. Bracchy did so in just five games, with one to spare. A week later, he helped his team finish with a 6-0 record in a wild 72-54 win over Sidney.
Before this season, no player in Unatego history had scored 100 goals. This spring season gave Dana Stepp her chance, and she did so in style in the season's final game with goals No. 100, 101 and 102, helping her Spartans go 9-2. Oneonta's Anna Bischoff, meanwhile, capped her swimming season by winning the Section IV Class B 500-meter freestyle title.
But this season wasn't just meaningful for the winners. Oneonta cross-country coach Dan Forbes had some first-place finishers but expressed similar pride in the way all of his runners worked hard to improve on their personal bests. Most importantly, he praised their mature, no-nonsense approach in handling a disrupted season.
"I commend all my runners on their dedication this season," he said after their April 24 end-of-season meet. "With 100% mask requirement for training and racing, having a season after being a year off, and having their season at a different time of year, along with remote/hybrid learning, they had to juggle a lot they were never prepared for. They handled themselves very well, trained hard and never complained. I'm proud of them and their efforts."