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Sports Commentary: A Loss of Innocence

Staff Writer
Mineral Daily News-Tribune
The overflowing Frankfort gym on the night of Friday, March 6, as the sectional basketball championship between Keyser and Frankfort was played. Tribune photo by Chapin Jewell

By Chapin Jewell

Tribune Correspondent

According to Wikipedia, “A ‘loss of innocence’ is a common theme in fiction, pop culture, and realism. It is often seen as an integral part of coming of age. It is usually thought of as an experience or period in a person’s life that leads to greater awareness of evil, pain and/or suffering in the world around them.”

On Thanksgiving morning, I posted a picture to social media of an absolutely overflowing, standing-room- only crowd in the Frankfort High School gymnasium.  It was taken by myself on the night of Friday, March 6, the occasion being the boys’ sectional championship basketball game between host Frankfort and visiting Keyser.

Keyser’s 71-70 double-overtime thrilling victory over Frankfort remains, to those who were there, highly regarded as one of, if not the greatest game to have been played in Mineral County, in anything. There was heroism on both sides.  

Keyser managed to shrug off the sting of their two regular season losses to the Falcons and marched into Frankfort’s house and delivered a win in the one that counted the most. Frankfort, playing without the injured JJ Blank, fought Keyser every second of the game, till the very end, with Jansen Knotts putting the entire Frankfort team on his back in an individual performance not soon to be forgotten.

Keyser fans of course celebrate the tremendous victory, as they most certainly should. Frankfort fans, not thrilled about the loss of course, still march in lockstep agreement with the Keyser folks that despite the final score, the game was both remarkable and memorable.

Which brings us to the main point. As a stand-alone game, it will forever stand as one of if not the greatest we’ve seen. What makes it even more remarkable, and significant, however, is that from a sports perspective, it really was the last “normal” thing we’ve experienced, as the pandemic would shortly thereafter grab a tight and unrelenting grip on high school sports as we knew them.

Keyser would ultimately finish the season with a record of 18-7. Frankfort would finish with a record of 20-4.  While it was a sectional final game, it was not in and of itself not a season ender. There was a to be at least least regional finals contests for both teams. Keyser was slated to host North Marion and Frankfort was slated to travel to North Marion. Those games represented the doorway to the state tournament in Charleston.

But they never happened. On the very day they were scheduled, they were called off, the WVSSAC’s first actions really in response to the new but growing COVID-19 virus concern. Play was halted in the girls’ state basketball tournament already underway. The boys’ state basketball tournament, and indeed most of those regional finals games, would never happen.

And with that 71-70 double overtime thriller between Keyser and Frankfort, and the subsequent high school sports cancellations and alterations, which included the complete loss of spring sports and the premature ending of many fall sports seasons, came “the end of innocence” for our student athletes.

The members of the Keyser and Frankfort boys’ basketball teams were literally one win away from a trip to Charleston to the state tournament. But they would never get the chance and are forever left wondering what might have been.

The literal cancellation of the regional games the day of was a sign of things to come, and our first proof, for our kids, that truly everything you’ve worked so hard for could literally be wiped away with a tweet, with an article online, with a media release, a Facebook post.

Soon after would come word that the entirety of spring sports would be cancelled. No baseball, no softball, no track and field, no tennis, absolutely nothing would be played at all in the spring. It wasn’t just a game or a shot at the state tournament, it was an entire season wiped away before it could begin. No one last chance for seniors to play the sports they love, and for those interested in playing in college, no one last chance to catch the eye of college scouts.

Then would come a wacky summer. Would there be conditioning for and ultimately would there even be a fall sports season? It was a long, hard summer left wondering the ultimate outcome. Alas, and thank goodness, there would be fall sports seasons and for golf, cross country and boys’ and girls’ soccer, those seasons would be played in their entirety.

But for Mineral County’s volleyball players and cheerleaders, there would be no post-season, ripped away by COVID.  

As for football, well fortunately Keyser played nine games and Frankfort played eight games, but there was one gigantic regular season game, the Mineral Bowl, the annual matchup between Frankfort and Keyser, that would never happen. Then the playoffs, gone, wiped out by the COVID map.  

So now our cheerleaders, volleyball players and football players are left with the same feeling of the basketball players back in March when the cancellations begin, that feeling of not knowing what might have been.

For sure, when it comes right down to it, public health and safety and well-being of the collective us, takes precedence over everything. No right-minded person could or should argue that.

That being said, if we think our student-athletes haven’t been greatly affected by the COVID-19 cancellations, we’re fooling ourselves. Those missed experiences, those missed opportunities, they certainly have proved to our youth that above all, life isn’t always fair.  

There is, of course, the added life lesson that because life isn’t always fair, and because things won’t always pan out as we wish them to be, we should at least therefore always be thankful for what we do have.

When the throng assembled at Frankfort High School on March 6, 2020, to see Keyser and Frankfort do battle, nobody knew the show that was in store for them. They were treated to the most amazing high school sports spectacle.  

Nobody knew as well, that the game would mark “the end of innocence” for our young student athletes, and by proxy their adoring parents and fans. It was an epic night, full of goodness. What would follow, however, with the COVID-19 fallout, was equally epic, but in a bad way.

We won’t see a crowd or excitement level on display like that game in the balance of 2020, or even all of 2021. Come 2022, perhaps, we can once again look forward to packing a gym and sitting “butts and elbows” close to one another once again to cheer on our teams.

Our kids deserve it, as they’ve experienced “the loss of innocence.”