Everything was fine — and then COVID hit | Year in Review – Chico Enterprise-Record

A year without Friday night football games? Bizarre. A year without an Almond Bowl? Strange. Nine months with no sports? Unreal.

Like living in a simulation where a terrible glitch happened, an unsettling feeling of weirdness and overwhelming unusualness has surrounded this entire year.

When you’re a sportswriter for a small community, you fall into your routines. In the spring, days at work are spent at baseball and softball games. In the summer, you spend many sweltering Friday nights at the Silver Dollar Speedway. In the fall, Friday nights and highlighted by prep football games and Saturday afternoons are for college football. In the winter, you spend many long days at basketball and wrestling tournaments.

It’s been a routine I’ve done for many years now while working at the Enterprise-Record. This year that changed.

One of the final sporting events I covered was the CIF State Wrestling Championships held at the end of February in Bakersfield. I witnessed Orland’s Jennifer Soto, a sophomore, capture her second straight state title and Durham’s Jacob Christensen, a junior, advance to the finals and finish second.

Thousands of wrestlers all across the state packed into Mechanics Bank Arena with emotions running high — it was an epic atmosphere

Little did I know that jam-packed arenas and large crowds would be a thing of the past.

Shortly after, I covered the Chico vs. Pleasant Valley girls soccer teams battling for the CIF NorCal championship. The coronavirus started to creep into our local sports scene after Chico’s semifinal game against Lowell of San Francisco was suddenly ended in forfeit after a positive COVID-19 case appeared on the Lowell campus.

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Once the soccer and basketball seasons end, it’s time to look ahead to baseball, softball and track and field. But that didn’t happen.

On April 3, the CIF canceled all spring sports for the remainder of the school year. Chico State sports and Butte College sports were also canceled.

Abruptly, I was no longer surrounded by the thrilling, energetic atmosphere of a game where screaming kids and proud parents filled the stands. Instead, I was isolated, sitting in my living room, making phone calls and watching meetings through a screen.

My heart hurt for the spring athletes who had their seasons abruptly end. The Chico State softball team was on pace to have another stellar year, but that didn’t happen.

Players on the Chico State baseball team were dedicating the season to their late former coach, John Altobellli, the Orange Coast College baseball coach who died in a helicopter crash that also killed Kobe Bryant. That season was cut short.

With no sports to cover, I was thrust into the education beat. The last time I covered news on a regular basis I was a summer intern at the Fresno Bee right after graduating from Chico State.

I found myself quickly feeling green again.

Though with a different beat, I was covering issues that affect the same folks from the sports beat, the student-athletes are still students and many coaches also serve as teachers.

Much like the athletes who were sad and disappointed to see their seasons end, the issues in education were also saddening. Students had struggled to learn online but teachers were fearful of returning to a normal work environment too soon.

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The tug-of-war of whether or not to reopen schools —  that was just as divisive as a presidential election, except in this case there is no real winner.

As if covering a pandemic with a skeleton crew of reporters was hard enough, a deadly wildfire was thrown into the mix in September. The North Complex fires ravaged the communities of Berry Creek, Feather Falls and Brush Creek. The orange glow of the sky and the flurries of ash falling on Sept. 9 were haunting, bringing back memories of the Camp Fire.

My heart ached for the many residents who lost their homes, friends and family members in the North Complex.

Chico High’s Candice Wainschel, seated center, signs her letter of intent in November to play field hockey for Adelphi University in New York on Friday at Chico High’s Panther Stadium. Wainschel’s parents, Jonie Meyer, left, and Larry Wainschel, right, applaud in support. (Sharon Martin — Enterprise-Record)

There were some hints of good news that came in 2020. Local athletes are still signing on to continue playing in college, meaning they’re being rewarded and recognized for their work on the field and in the classroom. James “Woody” Faircloth continued his generous program of gifting gently used RVs to those who lost their homes to wildfires.

This year has been filled with lots of sorrow, pain and sadness, especially here in Butte County.

I’d like to be optimistic and think 2021 will be better. Sports are a big part of the community, it’s evident by how many people attend our annual Chico Sports Hall of Fame and Senior Athletes Banquet (an event that was canceled because of COVID-19).

I know there are lots of people — students, coaches and parents — who want to see sports return in 2021. But the cynic in me knows things don’t just change with the flip of a calendar. Our actions can result in real change and that means being socially distanced, forgoing gatherings and wearing a mask.

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Here’s hoping we can all get back to enjoying games and athletics soon.



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