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Stoetzer: Great to see spring sports playoffs, but Carroll athletes are in a tough spot | COMMENTARY

The Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association’s decision two weeks ago to approve postseason play for high school spring sports was a welcome sign of things looking more normal than ever compared to the last 14 months.

After spring sports missed out on an entire season in 2020 amid the COVID-19 pandemic, a modified 2021 season was being extended with regional and (for some) state playoff games. Nothing brings back the loss of sports for the seniors who graduated a year ago, but any upperclassmen who returned at least were being given a chance.

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Except for the timing of it all.

There are those who will look back on the 2020-21 high school sports calendar with a giant asterisk at the ready, and I can’t say I disagree. That doesn’t take away any of the outstanding achievements throughout the year reached by Carroll’s teams and athletes, many of whom were the blueprint for the rest of the state on how to navigate through an athletic season during a pandemic.

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It’s just not the same, for reasons beyond the control of the participants.

Fall and winter sports left the county with a handful of teams wondering “what if?” had they been allowed to compete in a playoff scenario.

Liberty girls basketball, boys soccer, and field hockey. Century girls soccer. Westminster football, golf, and volleyball. Not to mention dozens of indoor track and cross country athletes, and wrestlers.

For Carroll’s spring teams, there is postseason excitement starting to form. But how much is up for debate.

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Teammates celebrate with Century senior Adrian Auber (4) after his two-run homer in the fifth inning of the Knights' 10-0 win over Westminster in Eldersburg Friday, May 14, 2021.
Teammates celebrate with Century senior Adrian Auber (4) after his two-run homer in the fifth inning of the Knights' 10-0 win over Westminster in Eldersburg Friday, May 14, 2021. (Dylan Slagle)

The regional playoffs are scheduled to begin June 7. A state tournament, with quarterfinals as opening-round matchups, starts one week later, and runs through June 19.

Seniors from Liberty and Winters Mill high schools have their graduations this Tuesday. Century and Winters Mill follow Wednesday, and Man Valley, South Carroll, and Westminster are set for Thursday.

Do those athletes head to the beach for a week, and hope their team stays alive long enough for them to return? Do they cut short their Senior Week itinerary that was likely planned months in advance? Do they call it a career, satisfied with their abbreviated regular seasons compared to what was taken from them in 2020?

Or do they postpone the traditional pilgrimage to Ocean City, one that nearly every graduating high school student in the region makes at the beginning of each summer?

I brought the topic up with a co-worker in a recent conversation. His point was a valid one — the beach will always be there, but the time spent with friends just after graduation is what sticks with you forever. Or at least a very long time.

I can’t tell you all that much about the day of my high school graduation. I know exactly where I stayed in Ocean City the week after (it’s not there anymore).

For those opting to make the Eastern Shore trip, I don’t blame them.

For those choosing to stay home and make a potential state championship run with their teammates, I don’t blame them either.

But it’s not the easiest decision to make.

Washington County had 11 spring sports teams as of last week opting out of the upcoming postseason, according to a recent Hagerstown Herald-Mail article. Carroll County doesn’t have any teams following suit, at least not as of Memorial Day weekend.

That’s subject to change, of course. And it might depend on the team and its success.

One county coach said her girls lacrosse team is preparing for the playoffs minus its seniors. Meanwhile, a Carroll boys lacrosse team with title aspirations recently had its Senior Night and during the pregame festivities the announcer made sure to inform everyone that Senior Week was canceled for the players.

He was barely joking.

If your team is primed for playoff success, it might as well be terrible timing for anyone trying to stroll the boardwalk in two weeks’ time. If your team didn’t fare as well this spring, perhaps that timing isn’t quite as terrible.

But players are usually driven by commitment and competition and being there for their fellow teammate.

It’s not the MPSSAA’s fault for trying to do the right thing by the spring athletes. Everyone simply ran out of time to come up with a better solution.

Maybe senior-laden teams will charge ahead, promote some of their top junior varsity athletes to replace the grads and give them some cherished postseason experience at the same time. But for those few programs around the county, and state for that matter, that didn’t field JV teams because of low participation numbers, opting out no doubt seems like one way to go.

It’s uncharted territory. Public-school high school sports don’t take place after graduation, or during Senior Week. But, this is a school year like none before it. Difficult decisions have been made for the past 12 months.

And there’s more to come with a high school sports team near you.

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