When all is said in done, the year that was 2020 will be more significant for what didn’t happen than what did — at least in the local sports landscape.
The COVID-19 pandemic has left a lasting impression, stealing away memories from area athletes and creating havoc at a catastrophic level.
For many in our community, the coronavirus has been more of a nuisance. For others, however, it has been much more tragic. The experience of contracting the virus, battling the severe symptoms, or in extreme circumstances, losing a loved one. It has also taken a toll emotionally, with depression rates skyrocketing.
To some, the cost has been through financial hardship. Losing a job, or a business, or perhaps having weekly hours cut.
The pain has been real for so many. In the sports arena, a safe haven for so many, providing an escape from a variety of challenges in life, COVID-19 has had an impact as well.
Locally, it was first felt through an all-too-familiar word — canceled.
It started in mid-March by denying the Bakersfield Christian boys and East High girls basketball teams a chance to play for a CIF State championship. Just two weeks after Bakersfield High senior Josiah Hill captured the heavyweight title at the CIF State Championships, the Eagles and Blades were stopped cold. Both schools made fantastic playoff runs, seemingly picking up steam along the way, only to have things shutdown just hours before trips to Sacramento for their title games.
Although the teams had to settle with Southern California Regional titles, each celebrated with banners and championship rings — albeit in a new socially-distanced environment.
Despite the disappointing ending to their seasons, BCHS and East, along with Hill, had plenty to celebrate in 2020 prior to the pandemic. The Bakersfield High girls basketball team also won their third straight Central Section title, and the Independence boys also celebrated winning a section crown at Selland Arena.
The Foothill and Garces boys, and Centennial girls soccer teams also won section championships and advanced to the state playoffs. Frontier’s Alyssa Valdivia finished as runner up at 106 pounds at the state championships.
Even as the pandemic began to take hold, there was a sprinkling of good news. Former Liberty quarterback Jordan Love was selected as the 26th pick overall in the NFL Draft by the Green Bay Packers. His former Patriots’ teammate Krys Barnes was signed by the team shortly thereafter. There were also seemingly countless numbers of local athletes who signed to play at colleges next year.
And let's not forget about the Lakers and Dodgers, who both ended long title droughts with championships in the past few months.
All in the midst of a pandemic that was initially thought to be just a temporary situation.
As it turns out, the pandemic was just getting warmed up. Spring sports athletes were hit with a knockout blow in April. With seasons originally postponed, cancellations followed soon after, wiping out the entire season, and essentially eliminating senior years for several top-level athletes in baseball, softball, track and field, swimming, boys tennis and boys golf.
The shutdown is now entering its 10th month, with all practices and games moved to early 2021 at the earliest.
Local college sports have been hit hard, as well. The Cal State Bakersfield men’s and women’s basketball seasons came to an abrupt halt just as they were preparing to compete in their final Western Athletic Conference tournament. The Roadrunners, who are currently the only teams in town that have returned to play (in a limited fashion without fans), are due to start play in the Big West next week. But that’s only after each team has experienced more cancellations, including their scheduled conference openers that were slated for this weekend.
But at least they have an opportunity to play. Spring sports athletes at CSUB weren’t so lucky. Their seasons were canceled eight months ago, and there’s still a wait-and-see plan in place for the 2021 season.
It’s much the same at the junior college level. Spring sports were canceled and all fall sports have been moved to January. There’s still an outside chance that Bakersfield and Taft colleges will return to action. While several other JCs in the state have opted to cancel their upcoming seasons, BC and Taft committed last week to play, so long as health precautions permit.
In professional sports, the Bakersfield Condors’ season was interrupted a few weeks before the start of the American Hockey League playoffs. The stoppage has continued into the winter, although there are still plans to start a season early next year. There was no traditional Teddy Bear Toss, a yearly-tradition around Thanksgiving, with thousands of plush toys thrown onto the ice after the first home goal. That gave way to another all-too-familiar word, “a drive-by event,” giving local residents a chance to contribute to local in-need families.
The local motor racing season has also been impacted. There was no March Meet or Hot Rod Reunion at Auto Club Famoso Raceway. The start to the seasons at Bakersfield Speedway and Kern County Raceway were delayed. An abbreviated schedule resumed, but no fans were permitted to attend.
Although it’s easy to focus on all the negativity surrounding 2020, the challenges and struggles have also brought to life an even better word — hope.
Finding that silver lining can be difficult, but there does appear to be some hope for the coming months. For starters, there is plenty of hope that the newly-developed vaccine can help suppress COVID-19, and most “experts” seem to agree 2021 will be better from a health standpoint.
Personally, I have plenty to look forward to, and that’s where my hope starts. A year ago, I was in a hospital bed recovering from a dangerous blood clot in my lungs that doctors told me I was lucky to survive. Now I’m looking forward to graduating in May with a Communications degree — after returning to college after a 30-year hiatus.
My son, unable to continue his college basketball career at Fullerton College — the school opted not to play this season due to health concerns — is moving to Arkansas for a better opportunity to keep his dreams alive. My family is also expecting two more grandchildren in the summer.
So for me, here’s hoping that life can return to “normal.” A hope for a better 2021.