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The ups and downs of the year 2020

For most, when the clock struck at midnight on Thursday, December 31, there was a joyous celebration not so much to welcome 2021 but to say goodbye to 2020 as the year seemed to have more downs than ups for most not only in the sports world but in life in general.

It will be a year that none will forget with seasons canceled, schools closed, and everyday life filled with wearing masks, staying six feet apart, and washing hands and sanitizing as much as possible.

As the year has come to an end, I thought I would use this last Sports Chatter of 2020 to share some of the ups and downs of the year that has just come to an end.

The first thing that comes to mind before COVID impacted high school athletics was covering Elizabethton wrestler Deuce Morton claim his second consecutive state title in the 195-pound weight class in Williamson County.

Also, Lady Cyclone Tyesha Thomas collected her third straight runner-up state finish in grappling at the same tournament.

The Hampton Bulldogs boys basketball team worked themselves through a tough district and regional tournament and then winning big in the substate at home only to be told they wouldn’t have a shot at a state championship due to the COVID pandemic that had just started to sink its teeth into all athletics in March.

Elizabethton’s Kaitlin Bailey signed to play basketball for Anderson College to continue her playing career.

With basketball brought to a standstill, the decision was then made that spring sports wouldn’t proceed as schools were closed due to COVID and therefore spring sports such as baseball and softball were shuttered after most schools only were able to get in at minimum four to five games.

The decision to allow girls soccer to play was welcomed by those schools who fielded a team like Elizabethton and even though there were some changes throughout the season, most of the season was able to be played.

Coach Bill McClays team made it to the regional semifinal falling to Central in their last season as a school.

Although prep baseball was canceled, Elizabethton had a reason to celebrate as outfielder Evan Carter was drafted by the Texas Rangers with the 50th pick in the MLB Draft making Carter one of the highest-drafted players in the area.

Carter elected to bypass a college scholarship to play at Duke and signed on to play with the Rangers although most of the minor league season was a wash.

Speaking of Minor League Baseball, the decision was made by MLB to pull the rug out from under the Appalachian League as local residents had seen an end to minor league baseball which had been a staple for many years in the community and after spending quite a bit of money to upgrade facilities to keep the Twins in Elizabethton.

An announcement has been made not long ago that there would be a wooden bat league for college players at most of the facilities with an extended number of games in 2021 so hopefully, local fans will get behind their Elizabethton team come summer 2021.

With no prep baseball, Boyd Sports who operated the Elizabethton Twins decided to form a 16-team high school league that several local teams took advantage of to at least get a little baseball in for 2020.

As a new school year approached and Governor Bill Lee’s orders in place, many felt like football wouldn’t be played or even if it was it would be very few games with a start date of mid-September.

However, Lee and the TSSAA came to a decision to allow football to start on a normal schedule, it was on athletic directors and school administration to make sure that a lengthy list of recommendations including limiting the number of fans into the game were followed to make sure football could be played.

Even though some teams had to forfeit some games to positive COVID tests, the Elizabethton Cyclones once again stood at the top of the heap in Class 4A running their current win streak to 30-0 and claiming the 2020 BlueCross Bowl Class 4A State Championship in Cookeville over Haywood High School.

Also, local teams Cloudland, Hampton, Happy Valley, and Unaka had solid seasons with the Rangers earning their first home playoff game in a long time and Cloudland and Hampton making a push toward the state championships before falling in their respective classifications.

Parker Hughes of Elizabethton became the first Elizabethton Cyclone football player to be named the Tennessee Titan Mr. Football award winner with teammate Bryson Rollins making his second consecutive trip to the awards to finish as a runner-up to Hughes.

The Cyclones Cole Morganstern also signed a recent Letter of Intent to attend the Air Force Academy to continue his football career.

Basketball is underway but already COVID has been making big impacts on scheduling as several teams have had to cancel regular-seasoned contests as well as many tournaments being canceled such as the Arby’s Classic in Bristol and the large girl’s tournament in Greeneville.

Several Christmas tournaments had to cancel with Elizabethton and Hampton being one of a handful of local teams that were able to participate in scheduled tournaments.

Also, the community has lost three people who were big supporters of athletics and football in Carter County in Mayor Rusty Barnett, Coach Dave Rider, and Dr. Josh Wandell.

Mayor Barnett was a Bulldog at heart but also supported all the local schools in their endeavors. Coach Rider was a hard-nosed coach who demanded a lot from his players but in return, he treated them with the deepest love of a father.

Dr. Wandell was an inspiration to all athletes and the community in general encouraging everyone to live their lives with Faith over Fear.

Now here we are. No one knows what to expect in 2021 but most people are praying deeply that COVID can be put into remission and a life filled with normalcy returns as once before.

We can only climb on the saddle, put our boots in the stirrups, and hold on.

The path could be rocky or it could be smooth, but it’s a journey that has to be taken one day at a time for everyone.