The biggest sports story in 2020 had nothing to do with what happened on the field of play.
Instead, it was what didn’t happen as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. On March 13, the Utah High School Activities Association announced the postponement of all high school sports and activities for a minimum of two weeks — a decision that eventually led to the cancellation of all sports and activities through the end of the 2019-20 school year.
Grantsville’s softball team, winners of three consecutive Class 3A state championships, played just one game before its season was cancelled. The Cowboys stopped in Cedar City to play a game on March 1 before a scheduled tournament in St. George the next day, only to have the tournament canceled by inclement weather.
“We pretty much knew, heading down to St. George after stopping in Cedar that evening, this would probably be it,” Grantsville coach Tony Cloward said in an interview March 16. “You can imagine the disappointment that we, as a team, have. The overall feeling of the team is complete disappointment, and we’re kind of in shock, too.”
The girls golf, boys soccer, boys tennis, baseball and track and field seasons were also called off because of the pandemic just a few games in.
“Even as a coach and advisor, you don’t know how to go through this,” Stansbury girls golf coach Jeremy Alverson said in March. “As an athlete, how do you keep focused on a sport when everything else in your life — school and parents’ jobs and everything else is just unknown right now? It’s a learning experience for coaches and athletes alike.”
Tooele boys soccer coach Stephen Duggan felt for his players, particularly the seniors who saw their high school athletic careers come to such an abrupt end.
“In a worst-case scenario where the season never gets finished, they never get to finish their final year in high school because they obviously don’t come back,” Duggan said. “They miss out on that. I feel really sorry for them. That’s the biggest thing of all.”
It wasn’t until late May that some semblance of normalcy returned. Offseason football practices resumed around Memorial Day, though players were separated into smaller groups in accordance with social-distancing guidelines. The Graduation Cup enabled the Stansbury boys soccer team to flay a few more games together in June, while summer baseball went on as planned, and the ARCA Menards Series brought stock-car racing back to Utah Motorsports Campus with a road-racing doubleheader.
The fall brought the return of UHSAA-sanctioned sports and activities, with reduced crowd sizes in some areas and mask requirements in place. COVID-19 outbreaks caused the postponement of some games and the cancellation of others, along with forcing some schools to withdraw their teams from the postseason.
The football state championship games had to be relocated, as COVID restrictions would not allow them to be played at the University of Utah’s Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City or Weber State University’s Stewart Stadium in Ogden. Instead, championship games were played at Dixie State University in St. George and Cedar Valley High School in Eagle Mountain.
A November surge in COVID cases caused a two-week pause in the swim season, as well as a two-week delay in the opening of the basketball and wrestling seasons. When practices and games resumed, many school districts throughout the state limited crowds to parents and guardians only, without students in attendance, while others capped maximum crowd size at 25% capacity.
Even after the winter sports season began, cancellations and postponements continued to be an issue. Grantsville’s boys basketball team missed four December games because of a COVID outbreak, and Tooele’s boys played a game against Morgan with 10 varsity players missing because of quarantine requirements. Tooele’s swim team also experienced a large outbreak that kept the Buffaloes out of the pool for much of December.