Back in August, I never thought we’d get here.
We were just five months removed from the unthinkable — the complete cancellation of the spring sports season, and the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic was yet to come. Sure, high school sports were set to return, but I couldn’t help but prepare myself for the worst: a year fraught with stops and starts, with state championship hopes derailed by a situation seemingly spiraling out of control.
But a funny thing happened between August and this past weekend. With a few exceptions — namely, a few COVID-related shutdowns, the most notable of which appeared to have stymied the momentum built by the Tooele volleyball team in the early part of the season — things seemed to go relatively smoothly. And while Saturday’s state championship softball showdown between Tooele and Bear River didn’t go how anyone from Tooele County would have hoped, it was still special to be able to say we made it.
Out of the 15 school years I’ve spent covering high school sports in three different states, this one was by far the strangest. I spent the bulk of the year watching games remotely from the comfort of my bedroom, streaming games from my phone to my TV set. Once the weather got warm, I made my way back to games in person, and by the end of the spring, things finally started to seem a little bit more normal.
Let’s hope that carries over to the fall, when our local athletes take to the fields and courts once more.
This past year served as a coronation for many of our athletes, with multiple individual state championships, as well as team titles for Tooele’s Unified Soccer squad and the baseball and softball teams from Grantsville. It also served as a sign of brighter days ahead for numerous other programs, with Grantsville’s soccer teams continuing to get better every year, Stansbury’s football team continuing to knock on the door of a playoff breakthrough and it boys soccer squad reaching new heights, and a scrappy bunch of girls basketball players from Tooele managing to find its stride toward the end of the season.
The real reward this school year was seeing our athletes get to compete at all, particularly compared to where we were at this time a year ago. Last year left high school sports fans and anthletes wondering what could have been.
This year should leave everyone going into the 2021-22 school year excited about what might be looming on the horizon. Tooele and Stansbury are headed to Class 5A, where they’ll join familiar foes Cedar Valley and Uintah in a new region that also includes the likes of Cottonwood, Hillcrest, Payson and Timpanogos. Meanwhile, Grantsville will remain in Class 3A, where the Cowboys have built a powerhouse athletics program comparable to their glory days of the late 1990s.
Come next fall, the boys and girls of Tooele, Stansbury and Grantsville high schools will be back in action yet again, competing for more state championships and thrilling Tooele County sports fans.
It will be well worth the two-and-a-half-month wait.
Darren Vaughan is a veteran sports writer from Moab, Utah. He’s still trying to wrap his mind around the way the past two school years have unfolded. Email him at email@example.com