The COVID-19 pandemic has spared no one, and area schools are no exception.
Yet, amid the confusion and oftentimes the worry, if there is one thing that motivates school leaders to keep pushing it’s the kids.
“Times are tough right now and...unsettling,” said David Mieure, athletic director for Williston High School in a Nov. 18 interview. “I feel for our student athletes, I feel for our coaching staffs, I feel for our community and our parents and everybody involved. Things are not fun right now. But we need to try to...stay positive and test negative.”
Area athletics at local schools have had a series of ups and downs over the course of the year as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In March 2020, when the pandemic started to worsen, the North Dakota High School Activities Association, like many others across the country, canceled seasons and tournaments. Athletes in sports like track, basketball, baseball and softball lost the opportunity to finish or even start their seasons.
And students like Holly Pennington, a sophomore softball player at Williston State College, were suddenly jolted into a situation where the only thing to do was “go with flow.”
Pennington was one of those students who couldn’t play last spring. It was her first year on the team and after playing one game in a tournament in Florida, she said they were instructed to return to North Dakota and quarantine.
But, Pennington said despite not playing her first season, her love for softball is her driving force to continue to train and improve and that there is light at the end of the tunnel.
“I know that it’s going to work out in the end and you can’t really do anything about it now so I’m not too stressed about it at this point until spring,” Pennington said.
And she’s not alone. Students at the various high schools and club teams have shared similar sentiments of persevering through adversity brought on by the pandemic because all they want to do is continue to play.
Sports returned in the fall for area high schools, while WSC didn’t have fall or winter sports with the exception of hockey.
And during the fall season, teams did what they could to ensure their seasons were uninterrupted.
Student athletes didn’t shake hands after games and they didn’t mingle with opponents, meanwhile attendance was limited to two family members per athlete and the list goes on.
They did that because they wanted to play.
Chase Gregory for example, the head coach for the girls cross country team, said in an interview that his girls wanted to do whatever they could to make sure they didn’t have another season taken from them.
As a result, the girls cross country team finished their best season yet in the middle of a pandemic and went on to take first place at state.
But as fall sports fizzled down, winter sports met what seemed like a brick wall.
In November, because of a rapid increase in COVID-19 cases in the state, Gov. Doug Burgum issued an emergency order that postponed winter sports practices to Nov. 30 and the start of games to Dec. 14.
This was significantly better than a previous order that originally wanted sports practices to start Dec. 14.
What helped amend that original order was the constant communication between the NDHSAA, athletic directors and coaches.
And at the center of all the conversations over winter sports were the students.
During the transition to winter sports, several athletic directors and principals said that although it was sad for the students who want to play, those same students also understand why they can’t play at the moment.
“That’s where our hearts are (with the students),” said Cory Fleck in a Nov. 18 interview, the principal and superintendent for Trinity Christian. “We’ll do what we need to do as a school...(but) it is sad. You want these kids to be able to do extra-curricular activities and compete and...have fun.”
Dave Butler, the activities director at Williston Trinity Christian School, and Fleck said during an earlier interview that they knew the students’ best interest was in mind when Burgum issued his first order.
Fleck also said as an educator he knows that having experiences and interactions such as those that take place within activities and athletics is important to a child’s growth, which is something he and others involved want.
At the same time, he also said they want that without putting people’s lives at risk or increasing somebody else’s chances of getting sick.
Then there’s the kids, a group of individuals that Butler calls resilient.
“That’s what I’m really proud of them for,” Butler said. “They’re a resilient group and I think I can speak on behalf of all the kids in the area probably. They’re all hard working, resilient kids and they’ll rally and hopefully sooner or later they can start that rally back.”
But students adapted to the changes and on Dec. 14 basketball games were held and later hockey and wrestling duals.
By January 2021 winter sports were in full swing and in mid-January area schools, like WHS, were able to lift attendance restrictions allowing more people to attend games. Masks and social distancing were still required.
As of February 2021, there hasn’t been any major postponement or whole teams having to quarantine as a result of cases. That wasn’t the case during the fall season when several teams like Trenton volleyball and WHS football had to quarantine because of COVID-19 cases within the team.
Additionally, WSC resumed all of its sports — volleyball, basketball and hockey — and on Feb. 1, leaders gave the OK to having fans attend the college’s contests.
For nearly a year, athletic directors, like Blake Lampert at Grenora High School, have told their students that sports will come back.
Now, those sports are here and if all goes well, they are here to stay.