A few days ago, a work contemporary messaged me to reminisce about a track and field state meet gone by.
He recalled a funny story about the two of us, positioned inside the press box at UMBC Stadium, watching the conclusion of pole vault and wondering out loud why on Earth the state meet’s officials were allowing it to take place during a rain storm. We may have gotten dirty looks from some higher-ups, and he may have told someone off in our defense.
I don’t remember the exact year, or whether it was boys or girls pole vault, or who were were even watching. The point is, my fellow sports writer started our text conversation with two words.
And that’s when it really dawned on me ― the coronavirus put an end to a run of mine that’s unique and memorable. Because of the pandemic that results in closed schools and no spring sports this year, I experienced a Memorial Day week without high school athletics for the first time in more than 20 years.
I took over as the full-time high school sports beat writer in the summer of 2000, but I started with the Times a little more than a year before that. Much of my part-time work centered around prep sports. I helped the paper’s main high school sports guys with their coverage, and got my first taste of annual traditions such as the state wrestling tournament and state outdoor track meet.
It boiled down to a lot of agate work, making sure we had the top finishes in every track event, or the result of every single wrestling match, back when the state tourney was held at McDaniel (then Western Maryland) College. It was tedious, but I learned how to function on those assignments. And I had a good dose of wisdom for when I replaced the main beat writers a few years later.
Each season has its own finale, with teams and athletes vying for postseason success.
Fall has the cross country state meet and the field hockey state finals on the same day in early November, while any remaining soccer teams tend to be competing in state semifinals. The state wrestling tournament takes place in early March, a few weeks after the indoor track state meet and in the middle of basketball playoffs (regional finals were usually held on that same weekend).
But there’s always something a little different about that final week of the spring season.
Baseball and softball teams are aiming for state tournament games. Boys and girls lacrosse hold their state finals. And it culminates on the weekend before Memorial Day, with Day 3 of the three-day state track meet coinciding with potential baseball and softball finals, and the last day of the state tennis tournament.
It’s a mad dash to the finish line of the spring season. It’s maddening for us as well, hoping we can give quality coverage to a handful of local teams, and dozens of athletes, during the most important week of their sports lives.
And it symbolizes the end of another athletic calendar year.
That didn’t happen in 2020 ― the sports year was cut short in March, the spring season never materialized, and hundreds of Carroll County athletes didn’t get a chance to compete against their Maryland counterparts.
There’s a true sense of loss that has taken hold of our high school sports landscape, and you cant help but feel for those who were robbed of their senior seasons. For many, it’s likely their final shot at participating in team sports.
I count more than 60 teams with spring state championships in Carroll County’s high school sports history. I can’t imagine any of them feeling OK with not being able to have those experiences.
It’s what reunions are made of, with former teammates and coaches sharing folders of newspaper clippings and dusting off photo albums. It’s part of the fabric of high school sports, and it’s what makes the week before Memorial Day mean so much.