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Tim Schwartz: With restrictions lifting in Maryland, it’s time to bring back high school playoffs | COMMENTARY

Severna Park boys lacrosse players celebrate with their Class 4A state championship trophy in the dark after beating Howard in May 2019.
Severna Park boys lacrosse players celebrate with their Class 4A state championship trophy in the dark after beating Howard in May 2019. (Brian Krista / Capital Gazette)

On Saturday, anyone over the age of 21 will be able to walk into a bar and, like the good ol’ days, grab an adult beverage and watch the Capitals’ playoff game.

People will surround you, given it will be the first night since March 2020 that people will be allowed to stand in bar areas and tables won’t need to be spaced 6 feet apart. It will feel strange for many of us, no doubt.

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“Every business in Maryland will be able to open at 100% with no restrictions” as of Saturday, Gov. Larry Hogan said Wednesday.

COVID-19, at least as we once knew it, is diminishing and whittling away, and now even 12- to 15-year-olds are eligible to be vaccinated. Normalcy is on the horizon. Hell, it’s practically already here.

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It’s time for public high school sports in Maryland to join the club. It’s time for the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association to bring back regional and state playoffs for spring sports next month.

It’s been more than 14 months since that infamous day, when Northeast’s boys basketball players had a hero’s sendoff as they walked toward the bus that would take them to their Class 3A state semifinal game against Poly in College Park. The school’s P.A. system shared the news the game had been postponed. It was, officially, the first domino to fall for high school athletics in Maryland. Many more followed.

Since then, public school sports have been a shell of what they were before. For most counties throughout the state, fall sports did not return to action until February. There have been no competitions across county lines in the Baltimore region. Seasons have been condensed into fractions of what they traditionally are. In Anne Arundel, the fall season ended abruptly after five or so games with no county tournament to top it off. Three football teams played just two games as the virus crept into rosters.

It didn’t feel right. It was anticlimactic.

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That’s not the fault of county administrators or athletic officials around the state. It was absolutely necessary, all the way through this day, to mitigate risks of spreading this virus. We know young people do get and spread COVID-19. The postponement of games and the quarantining of entire teams proves that enough.

What has become clear through our state government, however, is those safety nets are ready to come down, and there is no better time than now for the MPSSAA to follow suit. There will be risks as long as this virus exists, but it’s clear now the benefits outweigh those risks. To crown region and state champions again, to bring back meaningful thrill-of-victory and agony-of-defeat competition — outdoors, at that — would mean a lot to so many people.

There will be hoops to jump through, logistical nightmares to sort out. There are graduations, senior week in Ocean City with nonrefundable deposits and short time to organize those tournaments. The professionals inside the MPSSAA are up to the task. They will make it work and figure out a way.

I’ve been vocal about how here in Anne Arundel County the Board of Education unnecessarily interfered with what was a well-thought-out plan by the county athletics office and the athletic directors. I still believe the spring season should’ve had a full pre-pandemic-like season, complete with at least seven weeks of games and the potential for four additional weeks of competition. It was unfair to dangle the carrot for 36 hours.

The spring programs have taken enough ‘Ls,’ and now we should give them and everyone else who loves high school sports a much-needed ‘W’ and have a postseason tournament for all sports. The vast majority of us are ready for more. I hope the MPSSAA takes note.

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