To all of the reading audience, I wish you a belated Merry Christmas and that the upcoming New Year will be a very joyful and enjoyable one.

The year 2020 brought lots of hope and excitement in the local sporting world. Berlin High School had three teams go deep into the playoffs, with the Unified Basketball Team seeded No. 1, and after a bye, winning the next game in the tournament and were preparing for a semifinal game in the Division I playoffs. Both the BHS girl's and boy's hockey teams won exciting semifinal games two days apart on March 10 and 11, respectively, to advance to the finals slated for March 14.

Then came the virus pandemic and within 48 hours things went from the games being played with each athlete getting four spectator tickets, to playing the games without spectators and to a final decision of canceling all playoff games in all divisions, period!

Our local coaches of those three teams, Karen Turgeon, Craig Bartoli and Mike Poulin had to Zoom or video chat, or whatever the other terms are that I am not that familiar with, with their players and to do the best they could to support them in the midst of tremendous disappointment that all, including coaches, players, parents and fans felt during this time. There was never any real closure to the season and online communication with people who are hurting isn't nearly as effective as person to person.

Eventually, the New Hampshire Interscholastic Athletic Association, which ultimately made the decision to cancel everything, established criteria to award co-championship trophies/awards to all of those teams that remained in the tournament. Later, a "drive-by" awards ceremony was held for all three of the Berlin teams who were declared co-champions. Coaches stopped by each student/athletes' homes and presented them with a sign and posed for pictures with the trophies. Bittersweet to say the least.

Next came spring sports, and the decision was made to cancel the entire state high school spring sports programs, which trickled down to the middle school level, local recreation programs and eventually the bulk of the summer programs. The North Country Men's Softball League held regular season and playoff games as well as a couple of tournaments but other than that things were pretty quiet.

Those in authority did agree to start school and sports in the fall of 2020, and although the schedules were abbreviated and mainly localized, the fall season went on with lots of exciting games and once again playoffs were held.

The BHS field hockey team pulled a mild upset in the semifinals by beating longtime rival Newfound to advance to the finals only to have things shut down a day after the win and a day before the finals were scheduled. Coach Nicole Arguin had to console her team online, which she shared was difficult, especially when you have a close-knit group who had worked so hard since mid-August to overcome some challenges and get to the finals, a goal all teams have.

Bob Lord's BHS cross-country team had a compromised season with the light at the end of the tunnel being a chance to see how good they really were with a trip to the Division 3/4 Cross-Country Championships at Derryfield Park in Manchester. The races went on but the local authorities banned the undefeated team from traveling south, despite extreme precautions set up by the state cross-country authorities. Another bitter disappointment for those kids, Coach Lord and cross-country fans. There is always, next year, but what about the seniors on all of the local teams who don't have the next year as this was it for them.

The winter season is underway, also with some strict restrictions but one wonders what it will look like as things change almost on a daily basis based on the number of cases of the virus in the schools and in the communities.

Without getting into politics and personal opinions, I will say this. I have done extensive research from all areas, angles and with the help of many resources and there is a basic conclusion that many have. Kids at all ages need to play, whether it be on the playgrounds, the slopes, in recreation programs or in NHIAA-sanctioned middle school and high school athletic programs. In the winter that includes basketball, spirit, hockey, skiing, wrestling and indoor track.

Some people are of the opinion that kids need to stay at home, do online learning and have no physical activity, which are all part of the social distancing, isolation mandates, which might help to slow down the spread of the virus. The flip side of that relates to the long-term, possibly irreversible negative effects that will most likely happen. We could end up with a generation of young people who are or soon will become physically, emotionally, socially, spiritually and mentally stunted, which means "they are being prevented from growing and developing to their full potential,” according to Vocab.com.

There are lots of qualified, legitimate thoughts and opinions to ponder and consider regarding all aspects of this pandemic, but what it does and is doing to our young student/athletes will/could last a lifetime. Maybe "this too will pass" but at what cost? As the question goes, "What say you?"

Professional sports also made major adjustments with abbreviated schedules or none at all. In many respects, I like the shortened seasons and more regional schedules. Major League Baseball doesn't need 162 games, plus another 40 or 50 playoff games, with the World Series finishing in November, Basketball and hockey could use 15 or 20 less regular-season games before playoffs. Football, at all levels, has continued, despite lots of cancellations, changes in rosters, which can result in interesting final results.

There is a part of me that wonders if small mom and pop middle-class businesses are shut down, why aren't multi-billion dollar professional sports' leagues doing the same? Also, and as I mentioned once before, guys signing $125 million contract extensions in the midst of a pandemic, doesn't sit too well with many people.

With all of that being written, I hope and pray in the end we will all survive, grow and change where we need to and that the upcoming 2021 year will bring promise, that we will make good and necessary adjustments and that joy and great blessings will come your way!

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