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Games gone, memories missed: High school athletes ‘robbed’ by COVID

Updated June 23, 2021 - 11:46 am

Last summer, Daniel Britt and his Liberty teammates were getting ready to defend the state football championship they won in 2019.

But for Britt and most senior athletes in Southern Nevada who play fall and winter sports, the season never began and left them looking back with thoughts of what could have been.

“I definitely feel like we got robbed of a senior year,” Britt said. “(Most states) played, and they got all the way through the whole season completely fine with state championships and all of that. For us not to be able to come up with a solution to play even five or six games is a little ridiculous. Those are memories we’re never going to get back.”

Those laments are common among the Class of 2021. With COVID-19 cases spiking in July, the Nevada Interscholastic Activities Association announced a plan to contest the winter, fall and spring sports during the spring semester, giving each a six-week window with no state champions crowned.

That was a crushing blow for some teams that had been pointing toward this year as one a state title was a possibility.

“Every year, everybody says, ‘This is our year,’ but for us, this was literally that year,” said Shadow Ridge offensive lineman Anthony Ford, who hopes to walk on at UNLV next spring. “We were a senior heavy team, and this was the perfect situation. Motivation was at an all-time high, and we thought we were going to win state and go out on top.”

The “perfect situation” for Shadow Ridge was the NIAA’s creation of a new Class 5A that included the top teams in the state while the Mustangs stayed in 4A.

“Ultimately, everybody in 4A is excited, because whether anyone in 5A would tell you or not, there’s an expiration date on your season,” Shadow Ridge coach Travis Foster said. “Being in 4A, everybody has an opportunity. We expect to be in the mix this season, but it was definitely a missed opportunity last year.”

When the NIAA pushed all the seasons into the spring, it made for some difficult discussions. Foster said there was talk among parents about reclassifying their kids to be juniors, while others talked about possibly moving to Utah or Arizona, neighboring states that played football in the fall.

Moving wasn’t an option for Zedekiah Henderson, since he didn’t have family in either state. The running back was hoping to have a big senior year to enhance his profile and possibly grab a Division I offer before signing with Division II Eastern New Mexico.

“I’m disappointed, because senior season, that’s the peak of your strength in high school,” Henderson said. “They took the season away from us, and all that hard work went down the drain.”

Staying and going

Britt, who signed with Montana, was the only one of Liberty’s five Division I signees to not graduate in December. He stuck around to play for the Patriots in the spring, but that season was eventually canceled, too.

He still thinks he made the right decision to stay home.

“I did get to play four games (this spring) in a club league, but I only started 10 games as a varsity quarterback,” Britt said. “I wanted to play this spring because I didn’t feel like I was ready for the next level, and I wanted to give myself the best chance I can to be the starter immediately.”

Durango volleyball player Aspen Steele decided to get out of town. She hadn’t considered that a possibility until her sister, Kennedi, now a volleyball player at Pepperdine, suggested she should think about graduating early.

Steele liked the idea, and Arkansas-Little Rock’s ability to accept her a semester early became a determining factor in her signing there.

“I learned a lot from (Kennedi’s recruitment),” Steele said. “One is that things change all the time. During that time, people were committing and decommitting because of new rules where (college) seniors get an extra year of eligibility. There was just a lot of change going on.”

Highs and lows

Spring Valley’s Kenna Scott, who will play basketball for Webber International in Florida, felt the lows of losing her senior basketball season but competed in track and field and won the 4A Desert Region title in the shot put and discus.

She said while not being able to put on the Spring Valley basketball jersey again “took a toll on all of us,” it made her appreciate the track and field season that much more.

“It makes you grateful for all the running and track practices, things nobody wants to do,” Scott said. “You start to miss it because some aren’t lucky enough to have that opportunity.”

Scott said she’s also grateful for the support she received from her parents, teachers and coaches who “made it their personal mission” to make sure the kids had a positive senior year.

The outlook is better for seniors in the Class of 2022. The NIAA recently announced it will return to a normal sports calendar with no restrictions.

While there still will be protocols in place for dealing with COVID-19 cases, there will be no testing as there was in the spring.

“We are 100 percent expecting it to be as normal as possible,” Centennial athletic director Mike Livreri said. “Most of our programs are working out, so we expect to be back.”

Contact Jason Orts at jorts@reviewjournal.com. Follow @SportsWithOrts on Twitter.

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