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Here's how the cancellation of the 2020 OHSAA spring season reverberates today

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Posted at 7:00 AM, Mar 09, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-11 10:00:46-05
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Dylan Whitson still keeps the text messages on his phone.

The texts are a reminder of all the support he received after the 2020 high school spring sports season was canceled due to the coronavirus outbreak.

The Ohio State University freshman won't ever forget how the Madeira High School track and field program impacted his life beyond running; it built lasting friendships and a foundation for the future.

"I still always talk to the 4-by-8 (relay) team," Whitson said. "And I probably will forever. It's just been really everything to me."

When the Ohio High School Athletic Association canceled 2020 spring sports in late April, Whitson and three senior teammates weren't alone. Parents and other teammates within the program helped them through the difficult time.

“Hey Dylan, I know times are tough, but I just wanted to thank you for a great few seasons," teammate Brock Shultz wrote at the time. "Even though this isn’t how we wanted it to end, I wanted to say thanks for being such a good example to me. You have made me faster and stronger in so many ways."

Whitson said those texts still mean the world to him nearly a year later.

"I found that very touching, because I didn't know I really had that kind of an impact on him," Whitson said. "I just thought we were good friends. It's just a good perspective to have."

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The Madeira relay team finished eighth at the Division II state meet in 2019. And although the relay team wasn't able to compete at the OHSAA state meet in June 2020, all was not lost.

Whitson, Ben Ramos, Diego Arredondo and Ben Cunningham -- all part of Madeira's 2020 class -- were able to run outside of high school competition, set a school record and capture an Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) Junior Olympic national title in August.

"If we would've stopped and not did anything, I think that would've been horrible and awful," Madeira coach Josh Dooley said. "So I wanted to make sure we did everything possible to have an opportunity. There is so much that you could say about how amazing they were."

While the OHSAA canceled the remaining winter tournaments in late March 2020, the spring season never began after school buildings remained closed for the rest of the school year.

"When you look at the last 12 months, the one group of kids that were most adversely affected by the pandemic were last year's spring kids," said Lakota West athletic director Scott Kaufman, who is the vice president of the OHSAA board of directors.

Mason softball coach Liann Muff said her players were incredulous upon learning of the cancellation last spring.

"When it hit us, there definitely was a sadness," Muff said. "We had sad Zoom calls, sad texts, late-night texts. Just couldn't believe it was happening."

Like Whitson, former Roger Bacon baseball player Evan Kelsey couldn't return to state with his teammates as a senior last spring.

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Roger Bacon 2020 player Chris Hoffmann earned the save in the Spartans' 2-0 win over Versailles in the Division III regional final May 31, 2019 at Wright State University. It gave the Spartans their first state baseball tournament appearance since 1968.

The Spartans made the state baseball tournament in 2019 for the first time since 1968, and the team was eager to make it to the state championship game in 2020.

"I was always hoping," Kelsey said last spring. "Everybody kept saying the season is canceled and I just never thought about that, especially the senior season, because you never want to lose it."

Kelsey, now at Wilmington College, played on three summer teams. He went back to help the Roger Bacon baseball team this past fall, reconnecting with a school and program that meant so much to his life.

Kelsey and his college roommate, former Roger Bacon player Jake Brookbank, still discuss what could've been had the Spartans had an opportunity to compete last spring.

"We still talk to (Roger Bacon coach Tim) McCoy; we still talk to a bunch of our buddies from our team," Kelsey said. "It's a great feeling to talk to them, but obviously it always brings back backlash from the season that got canceled."

By late May 2020, high school sports slowly started to return, with schools holding individual skills and physical training workouts.

"Look, the kids have been the silent victims of this in terms of they only have one childhood and they only have these experiences one time in life," Ohio Lt. Gov. Jon Husted told WCPO.

"And when the virus did not impact them the way that it did older adults and we were kind of holding them to the same standards, I knew it was going to have a physical, psychological, emotional, mental health impact on these kids if we didn't get them actively engaged in doing constructive things."