TRAVERSE CITY — The adjectives for sports in 2020 mirror those often applied to the year as a whole.
Dumpster fire. Heartbreaking. Depressing.
When the National Basketball Association abruptly canceled its season March 11 because of the coronavirus, it set off a shockwave of cancellations, bewilderment, illness, politics and anger.
The havok the global pandemic wreaked on sports — particularly school-sponsored ones — is the Record-Eagle’s No. 1 local sports story of 2020.
The year started with optimism through the high school basketball and hockey communities. That optimism wouldn’t get finished, as the Michigan High School Athletic Association followed the NBA’s lead and canceled all winter postseason tournaments March 12, leaving girls basketball unfinished in the regional championship round and boys left hanging just a day before district championships. The hockey semifinals and finals hadn’t been completed — and would never be.
Spring high school sports were completely washed out, leaving thousands of seniors to have played their last high school game without ever knowing it.
“I think we all knew it was coming,” Mancelona track and field coach Ricky Ancel said. “We all hoped it wouldn’t.”
Some had theirs end prematurely, others were lucky enough to get to play in modified conditions and some are still waiting for closure. The area has six football teams and two volleyball squads still left in the fall postseasons that’s dragging into 2021, with football currently scheduled to resume play Jan. 9 and volleyball Jan. 12.
“I played on an 0-9 team (at Birch Run), and I used to tell people that was a long season,” Suttons Bay athletic director Doug Periard said. “Boy, was I wrong.”
The MHSAA’s spring announcement wasn’t exactly a shock after winter tournaments obviously wouldn’t be resurrected, but the finality of it hit just as hard.
“My whole team was hoping for the best,” Traverse City West senior shortstop Braden Brown said. “You can only hope for the best. It’s a sad way for our high school journey to end, especially with all the potential we had.”
“All morning, I’ve been dealing with kids that are devastated,” Frankfort athletic director Dave Jackson said. “A lot of kids are hurt by it. I understand it’s the right thing to do and slow the curve, but those kids, especially the seniors, are hurting.”
Teams who targeted state championships — like Mancelona track, TC West and Gaylord St. Mary baseball and others — particularly had high hopes dashed.
“This year was our year,” said St. Mary infielder and pitcher Joseph Moeggenberg. “This is kind of devastating, not being able to play one more season with my brothers.”
Then in August fall sports began practice, football thought it was being moved to the spring and three weeks later was back on for a shortened season in a topsy-turvy year where no calendar was safe.
“It was by far the toughest decision of my career,” Inglis said. “We had 13 minds of the MHSAA who have great minds for problem-solving, but it was a moving target. It was sleepless nights. It was deliberately looking at the facts in front of us, as much as you don’t want to see them. We have no doubt we’ll return to normalcy. We just don’t know when.”
The start of winter sports also got pushed back to allow fall to finish and participate in a Michigan Department of Health and Human Services pilot program that will help sports like basketball, hockey and wrestling get to play in 2021 without masks.
“Everyone keeps talking about the new normal,” Jackson said. “I don’t know I like the new normal. It’d be nice to go back to the old normal.”