Traversing a unique high school sports season during the 2020-2021 school year, athletes throughout Oregon had three sports seasons compressed into a roughly four-month period.

Despite the challenges, there seems to be a consensus from athletes and coaches about that opportunity.

Gratitude.

Playing a condensed season format last spring, smiles never left the faces of the players, coaches or the parents who were able to come watch. As this school year returns in more normal fashion, with fall sports underway, I am excited to see the energy reach a pinnacle after what they’ve been through the past two years.

This time last year, teams were able to have noncontact practices, their upcoming season uncertain. The COVID-19 pandemic was a part of everyone’s day-to-day, and skepticism was common on how football was even going to take place when social distancing was necessary.

In the end, fall and winter sports seasons were postponed.

In February 2021, it was announced teams could commit to a shortened season, and energy began to skyrocket at practices. When I talked to coaches, their emphasis wasn’t on wins and losses, but a bigger goal.

They talked about the opportunity to bring players together, create lifelong bonds and eventually leave high school with a positive experience with a game they love.

I recognize that the goal of, say, football is to be better than the other team, where game-saving tackles can turn the momentum in any team’s favor, and touchdowns will bring fans to their feet.

Whether or not the Oregon School Activities Association decides to sanction playoff tournament format play, and how things will be handled with concerns of the delta variant, this season a newfound perspective will remain a constant.

While the goal is to be the best team in your respective division/conference, what matters most is to enjoy every whistle, every snap, every play, every win and every loss. It was taken away from football players before, and can very well be taken away from them whether by grades, injuries, or in this case, a global pandemic.

Corey Kirk is sports editor for the Baker City Herald.

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