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'The last 12 months has just been a blur' for Ohio high school sports during pandemic

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Posted at 7:00 AM, Mar 10, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-11 08:44:47-05
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Time can be deceiving during the COVID-19 pandemic.

No one in the high school sports community in March 2020 could've prepared for what has transpired in the past year: district pauses, team quarantines, unexpected rescheduling, limited attendance and the financial impact of a worldwide pandemic.

"I'll be honest with you," said Lakota West athletic director Scott Kaufman. "It seems like an eternity ago. Everything that has gone on in the last 12 months has just been a blur, and certainly it wasn't just high school sports that got turned upside down; it was the entire world."

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From the reopening of individual skills and physical training in late May 2020 to Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine's green light for all high school sports Aug. 18 to the completion of the state football finals in November, it has been quite a journey for the 816 member schools of the Ohio High School Athletic Association.

"We learned a lot from that process," Ohio Lt. Gov. Jon Husted told WCPO in February.

"The fall sports season went very well," Husted said. "We got all of our championships in. I know there were some disruptions and I know that there were some disappointments, but there are a lot of states where they never played fall sports. There are some states where they've never played winter sports."

Gratitude often took center stage with coaches and student-athletes across southwest Ohio.

Some state venues changed, but the postseason was completed in the fall, and it is on track to be completed this winter.

Even with a shortened football regular season and the state championships taking place before Thanksgiving, no one seemed to mind.

"I think we should all look and be grateful in the aspects that it took a village to make it happen this year," Kaufman said. "Every day I see kids playing, I am smiling behind my mask like you wouldn't believe."

A few days before St. Xavier captured its Division I state football championship in November, senior defensive lineman Giovanni Albanese reflected upon the opportunity.

"Our theme all year has been adversity," Albanese said. "And just being able to be here has been really exciting just because of that. Back in March, I didn't get to play baseball, so we didn't have that season. So we didn't even know if we would have football."

Husted said the reopening of high school sports during the pandemic was needed as a society, especially for student-athletes, their families and school communities.

"In Ohio, we found a balance on how to do it safely to give the kids those special experiences," Husted said. "Not only that will be enjoyable, but they're also so educational as well. And I think this has gone very well in Ohio, and we've had a great partnership with the Ohio High School Athletic Association because it was always a balance. We wanted everybody to have a season. We wanted them to play, but we wanted to do it safely, and by and large, people have bought in and made it work."

As another state tournament week begins, there will no doubt be another layer of gratitude for how high school sports have persevered.

"We say it all the time that high school sports are about more than wins and losses," OHSAA communications director Tim Stried said. "But when it's taken away from you like that, our schools and our communities and everybody learn how true that is.

"It made you realize all the aspects of school sports and other things like theater, drama, speech and debate, band, music -- all those things -- they're crucial to young people."