Memories of a sports season in high school that hardly was
Looks like summer has officially arrived in high school sports. Scorching temperatures. Seven-on-seven passing competitions. Football camps. Baseball display cases. Softball games in clubs. AUA basketball events. Trips to Arizona, Nevada and North Carolina.
So how come there is an alternate universe with 18 and 19 year old graduates still playing for their high school teams?
Welcome to the final week of the strangest sporting season ever, 2020-2021, when COVID-19 nearly exhausted athletic directors trying to understand COVID-19 schedules, safety protocols and how to use the facilities. when 19 sports were played at the same time.
âI told my superintendent that I throw my phone in the bottom of the pool and don’t bother to contact myself,â said Corona Centennial athletic director Bill Gunn.
This week’s attempt to host the first Southern California Baseball and Softball Championships will close a season that was hardly perfect, but at least gave a lot of athletes the opportunity to create a moment to savor in a time of uncertainty.
There will be doubts and a lot of questions. Why hasn’t the southern section women’s volleyball had a season? Why couldn’t football be extended until April 30 to allow for a game of bowls? Why did the Los Angeles Unified School District basketball teams have to wait until May 7 to play games? Why was Dodger Stadium not booked for the City section final? Why couldn’t fans unrelated to parents attend events at LAUSD?
Months of home confinement from March 2020 to January 2021 prompted coaches to reassess their priorities.
The retirements and resignations have come quickly and furiously. Some great coaches have decided to quit. In baseball, too bad for Dan Henley at Glendora, Steve Gewecke at Alhambra, Chris Ashbach at Mission Viejo and Casey Burrill at Valencia West Ranch. Westchester basketball coach Ed Azzam has resigned after 42 years as a head coach. Sports directors are also retiring, and who can blame them? It has been a difficult year of relentless negotiations and compromises.
Jan Hethcock, who has coached or led sports programs for 47 years, is in the process of becoming a consultant at Westlake Village Oaks Christian.
âI was happy to be here,â Hethcock said of the challenges he faced. “I wouldn’t have wished that on a new sporting director.”
From my perspective, inspiration comes from players and teams who overcome adversity and obstacles.
I think of the Manhattan Beach Mira Costa football team. The players who have known each other since they played AYSO together at the age of 5 have become somewhat of the champions of the Division 1 Southern Section and Southern California Region. It was a Hollywood-like ending, with the seniors heading to the school’s prom after winning their last game against unbeaten Lake Balboa Birmingham in overtime.
Jack Crawford played with a knee injury and later said, âI’ve known these guys my whole life. Public schools don’t really earn these things because we don’t recruit. We all play for each other and that’s what made us do that.
There have been so many magical moments of athletic excellence. In football, he was in awe of Bellflower St. John Bosco’s Matayo Uiagalelei making touchdown passes that deserved comparisons to NFL tight end Rob Gronkowski. In basketball, it was watching Amari Bailey of Chatsworth Sierra Canyon float through the air like an eagle. In baseball, he watched first year Bryce Rainer of Studio City Harvard-Westlake go 9-0 over the mound with two playoff wins.
In football, this was the sophomore year for Harvard-Westlake’s Alyssa Thompson to use her speed and skills to score 48 goals for a 19-0 team and be named the Gatorade National Player of the Year. On the track, he appreciated these football players increasingly in demand by college recruiters by proving how fast they were instead of worrying about seven-on-seven competitions.
Ultimately, the heights belong to those coaches, parents and athletes who have held on and found a way to enjoy their athletic experience this school year. There were a lot of ups and downs before they just played a game. They could easily have given up hope. Congratulations on staying the course on a bumpy road that has been repaired and is ready for a full reopening.