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Stoetzer: Be sure to appreciate sports when they come back | COMMENTARY

Debate carries the day in 2020 and, as someone who tends to shy away from conflict, it has been a challenge to say the least.

That’s why when sports resumed this summer, after the first few months of the COVID-19 pandemic, I celebrated the distraction. I tried not to fall too deep into the pros and cons of each sport and its return, albeit amid strange days. There would be time for criticism, analysis and second-guessing. Hooray, sports.

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Yes, it didn’t feel or look the same. Nothing quite does anymore. But that’s OK.

So when high school sports do come back, as they’re on track to do within the next few months, try to cherish the moment.

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It likely won’t be easy.

March and April were rough months, from the postponing of the NCAA men’s and women’s basketball tournaments, to the delay and eventual halt of the baseball season, to the NHL and NBA cutting their seasons short for the time being. Same with NASCAR and the Indianapolis 500. Golf, tennis and horse racing soon shuffled their schedules accordingly.

No Summer Olympics. No Wimbledon. No Boston Marathon.

I don’t think the Masters should be played in November, but so be it. I’ll be watching, even if the azaleas won’t be in full bloom like they would be in April. The Preakness set as the third Triple Crown race felt odd, but as a one-off it worked.

Major college football conferences postponed competition until further notice. Of course, many of them are back, or about to start up again ― for now.

But when most of these favorite sporting events returned, they didn’t quite look the same to fans. The NHL and NBA retreated to bubbles, away from spectators and in isolation so they could put together a postseason unlike any other. Kudos to both for pulling it off, by the way.

Major League Baseball had its fan-less Opening Day on July 23 and created a 60-game schedule. Rules were tweaked to prevent extra-inning games from dragging on. Playoff teams were added. Pitchers were coddled more than usual. Many teams dealt with COVID-19 cases, but only Detroit and St. Louis failed to play every regular-season game.

That’s not the baseball I grew up with, and I might have to slap a mental asterisk on a champion following a 60-game slate. But it was better than nothing. And it seems to be working.

I can’t take seriously many of the stats associated with baseball this year. Who’s going to validate a Cy Young, or MVP for that matter, on such a short sample size?

At least the NHL and NBA were finished with the bulk of their regular seasons before venturing into Bubble Land.

And while it’s tough to put a lot of faith into a top 25 college football poll when you don’t know which teams are postponing this weekend because of the coronavirus, there are still big games to watch.

As someone once told me years ago, a season is a season is a season. Which I took to mean the games still count, no matter how many there are.

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So when Carroll County gets high school sports back on its calendar, as put together by the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association, it might serve us best to just let it be.

Playing fall sports in the spring isn’t ideal. But none of this is ideal. It will be OK. If all goes well, the athletes will get as close to a full season as possible. Yes, this past spring was a wash and that was terribly unfortunate for everyone involved, seniors in particular.

The process was different than it is now.

The return-to-play plan is offering a sensible alternative, although local school systems being left to make up their minds for a possible October sports startup was certainly frustrating, given most districts and counties are still trying to navigate through virtual and hybrid learning plans.

But sports will return. And it serves us to hope for smart, safe and healthy decisions going forward to ensure that return.

As it stands now, Carroll will begin with winter sports practices Feb 1. If the MPSSAA’s modified proposal gets Maryland State Department of Education approval, winter sports practice can begin Dec. 7, with games starting in January.

That’s the movement Carroll County Public Schools is getting behind, as evident by the Board of Education’s vote during Wednesday’s meeting. It shouldn’t have taken this long to decide, but here we are.

We’ll have Friday Night Lights again, and at some point crowded gymnasiums for the can’t-miss volleyball match or wrestling championship. Local teams will compete for titles, and athletes will shine in the spotlight.

But they won’t the same for now. And again, that’s OK.

Embracing the return of sports should help us remember why we love them in the first place. Even if they’re much different than before.

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