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COVID-19 hit the sports world hard

When one opponent is physically unable to continue in a boxing match, a technical knockout (TKO) is declared.

Last March, the coronavirus pandemic flexed its muscles in all facets of life-and the sports world was no exception.

COVID-19 initially overwhelmed the sports world with a flurry of hard hits. The virus landed numerous staggering blows to high school, college and professional sports. There were plenty of early knockdowns as seasons in all sports and at all level were either significantly paused or permanently canceled.

But for the most part, the sports world avoided a TKO.

This week was the one-year anniversary of when COVID entered the ring and made it presence known to athletes and fans alike. In this article, the Times News will take a look back and recap the fight against COVID in a round-by-round breakdown of what happened and when it happened.

Round 1

On March 11, 2020, COVID-19 threw a punch at Utah Jazz player Rudy Gobert. He tested positive, and the virus went on the attack, forcing the NBA to abruptly suspend its season.

Round 2

One day later, COVID knocked down Major League Baseball’s Spring Training, and Commissioner Rob Manfred suspended the start of the regular season by what was initially to be only two weeks. With the pandemic slamming body punches at the entire country, and with pressure from the CDC, MLB back-pedaled and moved the start of their season to July 23 with an abbreviated 60-game schedule that ended on Sept. 27. No fans were allowed into the games, but season ticket holders could have cardboard cut outs of themselves sit in their actual seats.

In these early rounds, the pandemic was leading on all judges’ cards. By July, 34 MLB players had tested positive for the virus. Most did return following their quarantines. Another 22 players opted to not play the entire season. A total of 43 games were postponed by Sept. 20.

On the same day that MLB announced it was postponing spring training, the National Hockey League suspended their entire season; however, two months later, a 16-team playoff schedule was played following the completion of a qualifying round.

The NFL season began as scheduled with protocols requiring daily COVID testing, and mask-wearing by coaching staffs.

In one week in late December, the coronavirus knocked 21 players out of their scheduled games with positive tests.

Round 3

COVID came off the stool swinging again and with a solid right hook, dropping the NCAA March Madness men’s and women’s basketball tournaments to the floor. This was the first time the tournaments were not played since the men began in 1939 and the women started in 1982. For college basketball fans across the country, March Madness had become March Sadness.

Round 4

On March 13, two rites of spring were driven to the canvas by the virus. The annual Masters Golf Tournament was postponed and was rescheduled to November, and the Kentucky Derby, the first leg in the Triple Crown horse race series, was rescheduled from May to September.

Round 5

With combinations of uppercuts and body blows, COVID-19 won by TKOs in its bouts against all the local colleges and high schools last spring. The entire Ivy League spring sports schedule was postponed. On March 12, Penn State Athletic Director Sandy Barbour announced, “There will be no organized sports during the spring semester” and then the Big Ten canceled all remaining winter sports events as well as its entire spring schedule.

Wayne Sebastianelli, the team doctor for Penn State football, reported in September of 2020 during a meeting of the State College Area School District Board of Directors that cardiac scans of Big Ten athletes who contracted COVID-19 showed “30 to roughly 35 percent of their heart muscles” indicated symptoms of myocarditis, an inflammation that can cause irregular heartbeats.

Round 6

The 2020 PIAA swimming and basketball tournaments went from being delayed to being canceled.

As of May 2020, there was still hope that the high schools could fight back against COVID-19 and their spring seasons would be played.

“It could be a simple ‘sports are canceled,’” said Amy Scheuneman, a spokesperson with the PIAA, “It could be anything right now. I’d say all options are on the table until they are taken off.”

On April 9, Wolf removed all the options. He closed all schools in a statewide health and safety precaution and ended all high school spring sports.

Round 7

In August of 2020, Pa. Gov. Tom Wolf recommended that all fall high school sports in Pennsylvania be canceled. A week later, the PIAA opted to delay the season instead of canceling it.

Round 8

The schools got back in the ring in the fall. The fight plan was to limit home fan attendance and allow no visiting fans. Everyone in attendance was required to wear face coverings. Athletes had to practice social distancing. Locker rooms were off limits.

Tamaqua announced that the football season would go on without cheerleaders and their heralded marching band.

“It was a gut punch,” said band parent Rebecca Kowalski. “I just started crying.”

The planned merger between the Schuylkill League and the Colonial League in football was put off for another year. Area football teams played unbalanced and abbreviated schedules in near empty stadiums.

Round 9

The sports world continues its fight against COVID-19 with a strong defensive strategy, utilizing stringent safety protocols and CDC guidelines.

The NBA and NHL used “bubbles” and “pods” to eventually complete their suspended 2019-20 seasons.

MLB completed an abbreviate 60-game regular season and crowned a World Series champ.

Despite 262 players and 464 other personnel who tested positive, the NFL was able to complete an entire regular season, playoffs and the Super Bowl.

In area high school basketball games and wrestling matches, players wear masks and fan attendance is limited. A full regular schedule has been completed and the postseason is in full swing for winter sports teams and athletes.

Round 10

The sports world continues its counter-punching against COVID-19. Major League Baseball will have a full season schedule and allow limited fan attendance. The NBA is playing a 72-game season, down from its standard 82-game season, while the NHL is in the midst of a 56-game campaign rather than 82.

The PIAA announced that all high school spring sports will proceed as scheduled. Baseball, softball and track and field athletes will compete without wearing face coverings. Social distancing will still be enforced.

And the winner is?

The underdog sports world has picked itself up from the canvas and has backed COVID-19, the undefeated heavyweight champion, into the corner of the ring. The games continue to play on and the athletes, with a renewed resolve, are primed to knock out the virus and reclaim their right to compete in the arenas and on the fields everywhere.

Masks were the new normal during the PIAA winter sports season. In the above photo, Jim Thorpe girls basketball players, from left, Skyler Searfoss, Olivia Smelas and Leah Snisky, are shown during a time out in Thursday's District 114A title game. ANTHONY GETZ/SPECIAL TO THE TIMES NEWS