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James Andersen: 2020 had special moments, despite pandemic

When I pulled into the Onaway High School parking lot on the night of March 12, I had no clue the boys basketball district games I was there to cover would be the last high school games I’d see for five months.

The next morning, the Michigan High School Athletic Association declared that all postseason games scheduled for the weekend would be played as scheduled, but with reduced attendance. By 3 p.m. that afternoon, all winter postseason tournaments were suspended indefinitely.

Ultimately, they would never resume. The cancellation of the spring sports season wasn’t too far behind.

Such was 2020, when the sports calendar faced its toughest opponent, the COVID-19 pandemic.

It was a year of face coverings at sporting events, games with little or no fans in attendance, and a schedule that never seemed to stop changing.

The pandemic certainly wreaked its fair share of havoc on the local sports scene in a year that saw:

∫ The cancelation of several annual local events, including the Aliferis race, the Alpena News Track and Field Honor Roll Invitational, and the Alpena Huron Shores Babe Ruth season.

∫ The total loss of the spring sports season. Stops and starts to the fall sports schedule. A football season postponed until spring, then reinstated to fall with fewer games, then suspended again, then restarted, with hopes of finishing next month.

∫ The cancellation of the Alpena Sports Hall of Fame banquet.

∫ The Thunder Bay Schooners swim team’s chance to travel overseas postponed because of the cancellation of the PAMINA Swimming Festival in Germany.

∫ The Alpena Community College softball team’s season ending in March after 10 games.

But even COVID-19 didn’t stop some special sports moments, and there were also plenty of cool moments before words like “social distancing,” “pandemic,” and “coronavirus” became part of our everyday vocabulary:

∫ Shortly after the new year began, Alpena native Emma Gentry and the U-18 Team USA women’s hockey team won gold in Slovakia.

∫ In February, a dozen Alpena High School athletes announced their college plans on National Signing Day.

∫ The Posen and Hillman girls basketball teams split a pair of competitive regular season games and then went wire-to-wire in an exciting district final that saw Posen prevail 47-43.

∫ Owen Franklin became the seventh Oscoda boys basketball player to reach 1,000 career points and helped the Owls reach a district final. The Rogers City, Onaway, and Posen boys basketball teams also reached district finals.

∫ Youth baseball and softball teams traveled for summer tournaments and ultimately helped pave the way for Alpena to host its annual Thunderstruck Tournament.

∫ Nathan Swinson and Courtney Nunneley took top honors at another competitive City Open.

∫ The Hillman Horseshoe Club hosted its first sanctioned tournament in August, drawing pitchers from all over the state to Northeast Michigan.

∫ Alpena’s Madi Szymanski and Kennedy Ellis made return appearances at the state cross country and girls golf finals, respectively.

∫ The Alpena Equestrian Team, with several first-year riders, won a district title in October.

∫ Former Alpena hockey standout Cooper Black was drafted by the United States Hockey League’s Omaha Lancers and then committed to Dartmouth in November.

∫ The Alcona wrestling program got off the ground and looks to have a bright future ahead.

∫ The Alpena soccer team played one of its best games ever, rallying from a two-goal halftime deficit in a district game before losing to Cadillac on penalty kicks.

∫ There were big-time performances from area football teams, particularly Oscoda, which had its best season in program history.

Pandemic or no, all those special moments speak to the talent that resides in Northeast Michigan.

Local athletes and coaches deserve a round of applause for navigating countless obstacles and doing everything they could to compete, considering the circumstances.

Our local athletic directors also deserve a round of applause for their patience and perseverance in what I would imagine is the roughest year any of them have ever had on the job.

I think the MHSAA deserves a tip of the cap, as well. Regardless of how their decisions have been received, they’ve done just about all they can do to give athletes a chance of play while being put in a no-win situation.

After the rollercoaster of 2020, I’m ready for a return to some kind of normalcy in 2021. But, regardless of what happens, I know there will be plenty of spectacular sports moments along the way.

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