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We reached the finish line

By KEVIN ECKLEBERRY

Daily News

We made it.

In the months, weeks, and days leading up to the 2020-2021 school year, skepticism was the prevailing attitude.

When I’d talk to coaches, there was always doubt that the first games would even be played, much less that every sport would reach the finish line.

Considering where the world was at the time, it’s hard to take issue with that attitude, one that I shared.

Think back to last summer, or even early fall, when the COVID-19 pandemic was at its height, and there were still so many unanswered questions.

Even as teams went through their summer workouts, which were severely hampered because of well-meaning procedures put in place by the Georgia High School Association, there was a feeling that it was all in vain, that the work they were putting in would ultimately prove unnecessary when the seasons were canceled.

Fortunately, that wasn’t the case.

While there were indeed a few bumps in the road (losing players to quarantine was something coaches had to constantly deal with), every single sports season started, and every season ended with a state champion being crowned.

If skepticism was the word that came to mind last summer, the word I’m thinking of now is gratefulness.

The spring of 2020 was such a trying one, particularly for the seniors who had to give up so much, including the student-athletes who saw their final seasons as high-school athletes cut painfully short.

So I’m grateful that, despite the long odds we may have faced a year ago, every student-athlete who chose to participate in a sport during the 2020-2021 school year was able to have a full season, and make memories they’ll cherish for a lifetime.

Think about what we would have missed if things had gone the other direction.

There were so many dramatic, inspiring, and unforgettable moments over the past nine months.

Callaway’s football team breaking through for a state championship after so many close calls first comes to mind, and it was awesome to be at Georgia State that December afternoon in Atlanta when it became a reality.

Also on the football field, there was LaGrange’s spectacular turnaround, as well as Lafayette Christian School’s state-championship winning performance.

LaGrange Academy won state titles in softball and girls’ basketball, Troup’s girls’ basketball team reached the state semifinals one year after playing for a state title, and both Callaway basketball teams won region titles before making runs at state.

During the fall, LaGrange’s softball team made it to the final four and won a region title, and Troup’s softball team won a state-playoff series for the first time..

What a spring it was on the baseball diamond, with every local team putting a winning team on the field, including the Troup Tigers who won a region title and set a program record for wins in a season, as well as the Lafayette Christian School Cougars who lost in the state-championship series.

There there were the Callaway Cavaliers, who lost in the third round of the playoffs, only to advance in the semifinals because of a forfeit before losing a heart-breaker in game three to a Jeff Davis that won a state title.

There was plenty of soccer success to go around, with the LaGrange Grangers leading the way by making it to the third round of the playoffs.

There were electrifying individual efforts, including Callaway’s Niakoe Burks, who had a pair of top-three finishes at the state track and field meet, and Callaway wrestler LaQuize Gilbert earned a second-place finish in the state wrestling meet.

One of my favorite student-athletes from the past school year, LaGrange High’s Kale Gibbs, wowed us all with what he did during football season when he was one of the state’s best running backs, and during track season that ended with a fifth-place finish in the hurdles at the state meet.

Kale’s passion and energy were infectious, and again, if everything had been shut down he would have been denied so many opportunities, as would everyone who put on a uniform from August to May.

I know there are plenty of highlights I left out, and soon I’ll be taking an in depth look back at the 2020-2021 school year, and I’ll dedicate one sports section to each of the local high schools, Callaway, LaGrange, Troup, Lafayette Christian School and LaGrange Academy.

It’s always an enjoyable undertaking, and it’ll especially be the case this year because of what could have happened, but fortunately did not.

So yes, I’m grateful, not just that we had a full sports year, but for all of the coaches and student-athletes who hung in there, who persevered during some challenging times and made the 2020-2021 school year one no one will ever forget.