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SERIES: On March 13, 2020 we saw the impact of coronavirus on sports
This week, Times sports editor Bill Murphy will look back at the different angles of how coronavirus impacted high school sports
Baseball
North Hall’s Zach Warwick (28) celebrates with teammates at home plate following his two-run home run in the bottom of the fourth inning of a game against Greater Atlanta Christian on March 13, 2020 in Gainesville. - photo by Nathan Berg

Everyone felt the sting of what happened March 13, 2020. 

It just took a while for the magnitude of the moment to set in that we were living in a new world where a public-health crisis can touch every aspect of our lives. 

Sports is no exception. 

As we approach the one-year mark of the coronavirus pandemic that resulted in the halt to high school sports in Hall County, the impact of that day still resonates with high school athletes, coaches and administrators.

“Never in my wildest dreams, at the time, did I think we would be shutting down for the rest of the spring,” Flowery Branch High athletics director Jimmy Lawler said.  

Almost 365 days ago, we were all learning about the rising risk involved with the coronavirus pandemic. 

We were about to start masking up and learning about social distancing and staying six feet apart. 

And with an abundance of caution — which turned out to be a good thing — spring sports were brought to a temporary halt that Friday night. Later, that temporary delay to spring sports was extended for the remainder of the season, leaving the 2020 class of high school seniors forever to be remembered as the ones most greatly impacted for sports by COVID-19. 

“We didn’t know much about the situation with the coronavirus back then, but if you would have told me the season would have ended on March 13, I would have said you were crazy,” said North Hall’s Bradford Puryear, who was in the middle of his sophomore baseball season when the initial lockdown took place.

These same teenagers had other rites of passage — like proms and graduations — curtailed to try and stem rising numbers in the coronavius, which we knew was a bigger risk for those who were older and had pre-exisiting health conditions, but could easily be transmitted by people with no symptoms. 

However, losing sports was a big sting to everyone who cherishes those memories. 

And when the coronavirus first hit, sports were one of the first things we lost, even before the majority of people were wearing face coverings and the reasoning behind limited interactions were fully understood by the general public. 

“When we sent those kids home that Friday, we didn’t know we wouldn’t see them again in person for months,” Cherokee Bluff boys track and field coach Tivris Dixon said. “All normalcy disappeared for those kids at that moment.”

Nobody was thrilled to see these activities come to a grinding halt when they did. 

The pursuit of every state championship and playoff spot was eventually lost, a decision those calling the shots knew would come with consequences to young people from having idle time and an interference to the structure high school students need in their lives.

Still, the decision was made to halt sports, which compared to what blossomed in the culture as a whole, may seem insignificant, to many.

The week of March 13, 2020 started relatively normal, even though chatter started to circulate that the coronavirus might cause a slight delay to the sports calendar. 

Gainesville High athletics director Adam Lindsey recalls returning from Orlando, Florida, where his daughter, Avery, was playing in a national volleyball tournament with her club team. Just days later, he would be returning to a constantly-evolving situation with everyone wondering where the status of their season stood. 

Cherokee Bluff’s track and field coach recalls his program having a meet at East Jackson High that week. 

Dixon recalls vividly having his wife Marla, a physician’s assistant, give him the first sign that things were trending in the wrong direction. 

“She said, ‘Y’all aren’t going back (to school) this spring,” Dixon said. 

Once the fateful Friday rolled around, everyone got one more night to play before what was a planned two-week delay. 

Nobody was riding higher than North Hall’s baseball program March 13, having pulled off a 4-2 win against Greater Atlanta Christian in Gainesville, to take 2 of 3 in the season series. With the win, the Trojans were quickly entrenching themselves as the frontrunner in Region 7-3A and a bona fide contender for a run at the state championship. 

Puryear, the starting left fielder for North Hall, remembers the message from his coaching staff after the game to continue training and hopefully, the season would get cranked back up in early April.  

As instructed, Puryear and his teammates continued to workout and stay in shape. 

Every athlete was hoping for the same chance: To finish what they started. 

But, in 2020, we saw that life is far from fair. 

And kids were forced to mature and become a part of battling a national pandemic that has now claimed the lives of more than 500,000 citizens nationwide. 

“We had a lot taken from us, but we knew that it was keeping other people safe,” said Puryear, who is also starting quarterback at North Hall. “We were 100 percent fine with it.”

However, there is light and the end of the tunnel. 

As numbers of coronavirus cases are coming down sharply, thanks to the availability of the vaccine, high school athletes are back on the field with greater confidence that this spring will be different. 

And kids with another crack at high school sports are trying to finish what they started, knowing their classmates who have since graduated have moved on with life. 

This week, Times sports editor will look at all angles of the past year and how high school sports have been impacted. 

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