A look back at March 12, 2020, and the year of the pandemic for high school sports
March 12, 2020.
If you follow high school sports, it should take a nanosecond to remember that day.
It was a Thursday.
Eight boys basketball teams, including Aurora Christian and Timothy Christian, were in Peoria for the Class 1A and Class 2A state finals to be played the next two days.
Many more Class 3A and Class 4A teams statewide were concluding practices for sectional finals the next night.
Then word came from the Illinois High School Association: The state tournaments were canceled.
Compared to what's now known, we had no idea one year ago how the pandemic was going to spread, how the virus would rob of us of so much we took for granted, how it would take and alter the lives of those we loved, those we knew and those we didn't know.
Nor did we know what a tremendous effect it would have on high school sports -- the students who play them, the coaches who love training teenagers, the parents who watch their children participate and, yes, even the sports writers who love telling stories high school sports create.
From that ominous day, we have lived through circumstances we never could have imagined regardless of where our place falls in the high school sports world.
IHSA Executive Director Craig Anderson didn't hesitate when asked his first thoughts about the past year.
"The lost opportunities for kids," Anderson said Wednesday, as he and the IHSA staff reflected on the past 365 days. "That's what hits the hardest. That's what really hits home."
The hope a year ago was the pandemic would be short-lived and, as we moved into warmer weather, things would return to normal.
A little over a month after the basketball season came to a halt, and as the pandemic spread, Gov. J.B. Pritzker closed all schools. On April 21, the IHSA canceled all spring state tournaments.
Wearing masks to go outside our homes was the mandate. Sports had shut down.
As we moved into late May and June, we started to wonder about fall sports. The IHSA came up with a phased plan to return to sports, a plan that was altered by the department of public health in early July to allow for no contact.
On July 29, the next shoe dropped -- fall sports would move to spring 2021.
As we entered fall, cross country, golf, tennis and swimming were brought back with myriad mitigations and few to no spectators, which would become the new normal. There would be no state finals.
Pritzker announced in late October basketball would be played in the spring. The IHSA balked and we spent a month not knowing what was next.
Lawsuits were filed, "Let Them Play" rallies were held statewide as the pandemic raged. Sports were insignificant with infection rates growing and people dying.
And then, as people did their part to follow health guidelines, things started to improve. As we moved into 2021, a light at the end of the tunnel began to appear.
In late January, the word came basketball and other sports could resume. Players, coaches, officials ... everyone would wear masks. There was a limit of 50 spectators. And no postgame handshakes.
But the games began. And despite some schools having to pause their seasons -- or in the case of Elgin High's boys basketball team, one of the storied programs in state history, having their season canceled a couple of weeks ago, the winter season will wrap up Saturday, making way for the new spring season.
It will be a season in which six weeks of football -- with schools allowed to have 20 percent of stadium capacity -- begins March 19.
Just this week the IHSA announced plans to hold state tournaments in the traditional spring sports in June, a sign that just maybe we're approaching the other side.
The message we close with this March 12 is a simple one: The pandemic is not over and everyone needs to continue staying safe and healthy.
"We're navigating around it and we know more," Anderson said. "We have a plan moving forward. It's a much better place to be a year later.
"But we still have to remain vigilant in every way and continue to do all the things that got us to this place, so that we can provide more opportunities for kids."