This was supposed to be the sweet spot in the high school sports schedule.
These two weeks – last week and this week – were destined to bring such joy to the student-athletes of Tooele County, along with their families and communities.
State champions were going to be crowned. Fire trucks were going to come through Stansbury Park, Tooele and Grantsville carrying newly crowned titleholders. It was something that every one who loves high school sports around here was waiting for all school year.
Unfortunately, those rites of spring were just another part of our daily routine that was interrupted by COVID-19.
Some tried to bring the student-athletes back for some semblance of a season in the face of the pandemic, but ultimately, it was a bridge too far for the powers that be at the Utah High School Activities Association who are charged with administering sports and activities fairly and – above all – safely.
As much as I would have loved to be down in Spanish Fork last weekend watching Grantsville win its fourth state softball title in a row, and this weekend watching Tooele winning its second in a row while heading over to BYU between games to talk to track state champions, I feel the UHSAA made a difficult, but ultimately correct decision. That doesn’t make it any easier.
In fact, it makes one wonder what might have been had the games gone on.
As I mentioned, Tooele and Grantsville were heavily favored to continue their dominance on the softball diamond. Nobody was going to touch Grantsville in Class 3A – not with that pitching depth with Bailey Frischknecht, Maddie Peterson and August Cowan. It wasn’t likely anybody would have challenged Tooele in Class 4A, given that MaxPreps had them ranked as the top team in the state regardless of classification, with Utah’s top player in junior pitcher Attlyn Johnston to go with a powerful lineup led by Bryerly Avina.
Baseball season was going to be fun, particularly the Tooele-Stansbury rivalry. We were robbed of seeing Tooele pitchers Brett Porthan and Clay Freeman facing the likes of Stansbury’s Cayden Clark and Braydon Allie. Tooele coach Nolan Stouder mentioned that last year’s state tournament had ignited a pretty fierce rivalry between his Buffaloes and Juan Diego, as well. Grantsville’s Parker Thomas and Jackson Sandberg were among the leaders for a talented Cowboys squad that was on the brink on putting it all together for another state title run, as well.
I was really looking forward to the track and field season, watching the likes of Grantsville’s Porter Whitworth, Stansbury’s Carson Belnap and Tooele’s Makenna McCloy chase state titles. Whitworth was going to be a standout on the tennis court, too. Stansbury and Tooele were on their way to strong soccer seasons, and Grantsville’s young squad showed a lot of promise.
At least there is some hope for the girls golf season, as well as the Class 1A boys golfers. The Utah Section PGA announced that it will host de facto state championships in early June, allowing each school to field six-player teams at Meadowbrook Golf Course before naming All-State teams based on the top-10 finishers in each classification.
I couldn’t be happier for those young men and women, getting a chance to play the game they love alongside their friends and competitors once again – even if just for an afternoon. It’s an opportunity they deserve to have, particularly in a sport that uniquely lends itself to social distancing.
But this isn’t the way any of us envisioned this school year ending. Not the student-athletes, who will forever be shaped by enduring what they’ve had to endure at such a young age. Not the parents, who hoped to support their seniors through the last competitions of their high school careers. Even media types like me aren’t quite sure what to make of it – this is the first time since I got my driver’s license that I haven’t spent the first couple weekends in May at some state tournament somewhere.
Let us all hope that come August, we can once again enjoy the brief escape from real life that high school sports so often provide.
Darren Vaughan is a veteran sports writer from Moab, Utah. He would give anything to be able to endure the annual torrential downpour at the state softball tournament this year. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.