Masked Waterville players and a coach stay socially distanced on the sidelines during a game at Webber Field in Waterville. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

Boy. This year, I knew how to call ’em.

I’m being sarcastic, of course. Andrew Benintendi had a higher batting average than I did when it came to being right on COVID. Every time I made a guess regarding the pandemic and its effect on Maine high school sports, it blew up in my face. When I figured things would go one way, they went the other. When I expected COVID to zig, it zagged.

Most of the time, I tried to be optimistic. Looking back on the mess that 2020 was, you can see how brilliant a direction that was to go.

My first error was thinking that the sports shutdown that hit the country in March was going to last a month. Wrong. We lost the whole spring season.

The hits kept coming. I thought that Maine’s low case numbers would allow for a quicker return than other states. False. I thought in the spring the fall season wouldn’t be affected. Whoops. I thought schools would be open in the fall and football games would be happening as usual. Better luck next time.

Eventually, I realized what everyone else was seeing for themselves: That the only right thing to do, when it came to predicting COVID, was to not even try.

Sports are normally rigid. Schedules are made out ahead of time. Season start dates and end dates are predetermined. Not much is done on a whim.

The pandemic changed all of that, as cases rose and forecasts for how communities would respond fluctuated daily. Coaches and officials for sports that were set to begin in weeks were still shrugging when asked if their sports were playing. Athletes worked out for seasons they had no confidence would happen. Even the sports that did have seasons, like soccer and field hockey, had their players practice Monday for a game Wednesday that ended up being canceled on Tuesday.

Sports is all about planning. Administrators make scheduling plans. Coaches make gameplans. Athletes plan their lives around their games, their showcases and their tournaments. In sports, you wonder how the season will go. Not whether the season will happen.

And along came COVID. And every plan was shredded, and every attempt to prepare was a lost cause.

It sounds frustrating, and it was. Several athletes I spoke with said the worst thing about pursuing their sport during the pandemic was the uncertainty. Track athletes and baseball, softball and lacrosse players found it hard to focus on their training for a season that they weren’t sure would be played. Soccer players, field hockey players, golfers and cross country runners in the fall braced each day for cancellations of practices, games, meets, matches, or even the season.

Cony’s Grace Kirk passes by a roped off area— which in previous years would have held back many cheering fans — on her way to a fifth-place finish during the KVAC Class A cross country championship this fall at Cony High School in Augusta. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

On Oct. 16, the Maine Principals’ Association announced plans for state cross country championships. On Nov. 9, not even a month later, they were canceled. That was the year of COVID, summed up. Month after month of that, predictable unpredictability.

When I look back at 2020 in sports, that will probably be the impression that sticks with me the most. I’ll remember the masks, I’ll remember the empty stands, and I’ll notice the blank spots next to 2020 in each sport’s list of champions, permanent reminders of what the pandemic took away.

But what will define this year, for me, will be the uncertainty, and the guessing game that went on with sports each week as administrators worked against the current to try to get something going. And I’ll remember the disappointment from athletes and coaches who, like me, tried to predict the pandemic, tried to stay optimistic, and were hurt when their hopes were crushed.

Here’s hoping 2021 goes as planned. Lord knows, we could use some boring predictability right about now.

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