COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on sports named Sun-Gazette Sports Story of the Year
It was a normal Thursday morning in March. The PIAA Class AA swimming and diving championships were scheduled to begin that day and Jersey Shore’s Jordan O’Connor, Alex Butzler and Meaghan Keegan were en route to Lewisburg to compete at Bucknell, as were a handful of Lewisburg swimmers and Montoursville’s Angelo Silvagni.
Meanwhile, Loyalsock’s boys basketball team was just 12 hours removed from a thrilling 66-65 win over Camp Hill in the second round of the PIAA Class AAA boys basketball playoffs. The Lancers were going to hit the court over the next two nights to prepare for the upcoming quarterfinal matchup with Neumann Goretti and the area swimmers in Class AA were hoping to medal.
That would be the last normal morning of 2020.
That Thursday, the sports world came to a sudden, screeching halt unlike anything anyone had ever seen before. The Class AA swimming and diving competition was canceled after the Centers for Disease Control refused to budge on the recommendation to postpone the meet after a one-day meet was proposed.
“It’s kind of hard to kind of end your season on that (note),” then-Jersey Shore coach Jenna Brooks said the day the competition was canceled.
“It’s definitely not the news we were expecting to hear today,” Lewisburg’s Delaney Humphrey said that afternoon.
The remaining boys and girls basketball playoffs were initially put on hold before ultimately being canceled as well.
The cause was, as everyone knows, was the novel coronavirus. The pandemic was just beginning and set forth a chain of events no one saw coming. Those two cancellations March 12 were the first two of many dominoes that fell in the sports world.
The unusual, unprecedented year in the sports world was voted the story of the year by the Sun-Gazette sports staff.
After that, it was Lycoming, Lock Haven, Bucknell, Mansfield and Penn College canceling their spring sports competitions due to the pandemic.
Nearly a month to the day after the swimming and basketball tournaments were called off, the PIAA announced there would be no spring sports competitions for baseball, softball, boys tennis or track and field.
Fields remained vacant. Tracks were empty. Tennis courts were eerily quiet.
“I think we all knew it was coming at some point, but now that it’s a reality, it really hits hard for these student-athletes and coaches, especially the seniors,” Williamsport athletic director Sean McCann said on April 9. “I really feel for this senior class, they have worked so hard over the years, aiming toward this, their senior year of 2020.”
Minor League Baseball canceled competitions in all leagues, which meant there would be no baseball in 2020 at Bowman Field for the first time since the 1990s as the New York-Penn League canceled the season.
The big question mark throughout the spring was will the Little League World Series go on? But with players having to come from all corners of the world including Japan, Australia, Europe, the Caribbean region and Canada, it became clear that it would be too risky to bring in players while the pandemic raged on.
Four weeks after the PIAA canceled its spring competitions, Little League International President and CEO Steve Keener made a video announcement that the Little League World Series would not be played due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It would be irresponsible and impossible to bring teams and thousands of people from all over the world into the community of Williamsport as well as those six other communities that have been such great friends and supporters of ours,” Keener said in Little League’s video statement.
“Never in the course of the 75 years or so have we been faced with anything like this situation.”
While there were cancellations seemingly left and right from March into May, there were bright spots for those players who did lose their senior seasons.
Chris Kish and Chris Glenn helped organize the Independent Summer Baseball League and Williamsport Summer Town League for baseball and softball, respectively. They were made up of area baseball and softball teams, as well as schools from Districts 2 and 6.
Little League was able to be played at local levels, allowing thousands of kids to at least have some form of youth baseball and softball, albeit without a postseason.
Williamsport was extremely quiet during what would have been the 10-day span of the Little League World Series. But it was during that time the PIAA held a meeting to determine what would happen regarding fall sports.
The fall season was allowed to proceed, and with the exception of a handful of teams having to cancel a few football games, the year went fairly uninterrupted.
Jersey Shore’s football team reached the PIAA Class AAAA championship game, the Lewisburg boys soccer team won the program’s fourth state championship and South Williamsport’s Olivia Dorner won a state championship in girls tennis.
Warrior Run’s Hannah Rabb placed second at the PIAA Golf Championships, and at the PIAA cross country championships, Warrior Run (girls) and Lewisburg (boys) both won Class AA state titles.
It was an unusual year, but the fall provided some joy.
SUN-GAZETTE SPORTS STORIES OF THE YEAR FOR 2020
No. 2: Jersey Shore’s football team reaches the PIAA Class AAAA championship game for the first time in program history, losing to Thomas Jefferson.
No. 3: South Williamsport junior Olivia Dorner wins the PIAA Class AA singles title in girls tennis. She becomes the first District 4 player to ever win a state championship in girls tennis.
No. 4: Canton’s Timmy Ward recovers from cancer treatment to get to Hershey for the PIAA Class AA wrestling championships and places sixth at the state meet.
No. 5: Montoursville’s Cameron Wood and Brendan Wentzel win state titles (Class AA), Dylan Bennett places second, Cael Crebs places third and Montoursville’s wrestling team finishes second in the standings.
No. 6: Thirteen members of Montoursville Little League visit the White House and play catch on the front lawn with President Donald J. Trump and Hall of Fame pitcher Mariano Rivera.
No. 7: Warrior Run girls and Lewisburg boys both win Class AA cross country titles at the state meet. Warrior Run’s Lauren Trapani wins a fourth straight D4 title, and Lewisburg’s Jacob Hess wins a repeat D4 title.
No. 8: Lewisburg’s boys soccer team wins the program’s fourth PIAA Class AA championship by crushing Deer Lakes, 6-0, to cap a perfect season (22-0). It’s Lewisburg’s third title since 2015.
No. 9: Warrior Run freshman Hannah Rabb finishes second at the PIAA Class AA golf championships, taking home a silver medal. She entered states as the District 4 champion.
No. 10: The Williamsport Crosscutters become members of the inaugural Major League Baseball Draft League.