Surrey Eagles head coach Cam Keith speaks to his players during the BCHL’s 20-game ‘pod’ season last spring. (Damon James photo)

Surrey Eagles head coach Cam Keith speaks to his players during the BCHL’s 20-game ‘pod’ season last spring. (Damon James photo)

YEAR IN REVIEW: After slow start, year ends with Olympic medals, other victories

COVID-19 still caused sports cancellations to start 2021, but games were eventually played

Well, don’t I look stupid.

In this space last year – my annual sports year in review – I wrote a long column about the struggle that was 2020, both from a sports perspective and life in general.

I wrote about cancelled events, the challenges young athletes faced while trying to net scholarships in the middle of a pandemic, and sports seasons that never were – you know the drill by now, you were there.

But near the end of the column, I – ever the optimist – made sure to note that yes, some good things did happen. And maybe, just maybe, more good things would be in store for the coming year.

Welp.

Turns out, 2021 was a lot like the year before – at least for the first two-thirds of the calendar.

Organized sports started in January as they’d ended the December before – with practices, not games; in small socially distanced groups, rather than full-fledged team events.

High school athletes were still sidelined; junior hockey players waited patiently, delay after delay, for some semblance of a season to hit the ice – which, in the BC Hockey League, took the form of a whirlwind 20-game ‘pod’ season that didn’t start until April and ended in May, and saw the Surrey Eagles only play two other teams.

The BCHL lost dozens of players, too, as U.S.-born imports returned home to play in leagues with fewer restrictions and where games were allowed, and a number of B.C. players followed them, including South Surrey’s John Evans, lest they miss out on an opportunity to impress college scouts.

It was weird, certainly, but a year into the COVID-19 pandemic, we were used to weird. At a certain point, if the BC Hockey League had issued a press release to announce they were switching sports to basketball, I probably wouldn’t have batted an eye.

But even if there wasn’t much happening in the first few months of 2021, there was still some good news. The Semiahmoo Rock saw a record number of players drafted into the BC Junior ‘A’ Lacrosse League; a number of high-schoolers did still manage to secure university scholarships, despite challenges; the local chapter of KidSport still raised more than $100,000 for young athletes through its annual Nite of Champions gala – virtual this time – and local golfer Adam Svensson won a tournament on the Korn Ferry Tour in March, as he inched toward regaining his PGA Tour card, which he ended up doing later in the year.

The summer also featured what can arguably be considered the biggest local sports story of the year – Canada’s women’s fastpitch team, which was chock full of players will ties to the Semiahmoo Peninsula, winning a bronze medal at the Summer Olympics in Japan.

“PHOTO”

The six-team tournament – which actually began before the official opening ceremonies – was an entertaining one, and included its fair share of ups and downs, with the most notable down being Canada’s narrow loss in the semifinals, which eliminated them from gold-medal contention.

The bronze-medal game, however, served as an emotional rebound for the team, and featured a pair of former White Rock Renegades pitchers in starring roles – Sara Groenewegen started the game, and Danielle Lawrie finished it. For Lawrie, her final pitch – which struck out the Mexican batter for the third and final out – was not just her last of the tournament, but the last of her career, as she was one of a handful of national team veterans to retire at the event’s conclusion.

The medal was Canada’s first-ever in softball, and may be the last for awhile, considering the sport has been inexplicably (and inexcusably, if you ask me, which no one did) removed from the Olympic docket for the 2024 Games in Paris.

“Being able to make history for our country with these women, to be a part of that was humbling,” Lawrie said after the bronze-medal win, while adding that the victory was the highlight of her long and decorated softball career.

The team – which is always a popular draw at South Surrey’s annual Canada Cup – will look awfully different the next time it plays at Softball City (hopefully in 2022, but with the way the COVID-19 pandemic goes, it’s anybody’s guess).

Head coach Mark Smith retired, too, and was replaced by Kaleigh Rafter, the team’s longtime catcher who, like Lawrie, retired at the end of the Olympics. Rafter will be assisted by a pair of her former teammates, both of whom will also be familiar with Canada Cup crowds – Jenn Salling and Joey Lye.

Members of the softball team weren’t the only Peninsula Olympians, either, it should be noted – runner Luc Bruchet made his second straight journey to the Games, and White Rock skateboarder Andy Anderson made his debut, wowing television audiences at home and abroad.

“PHOTO”

When the flame went out on the Tokyo Olympics – an event, it should be noted, that would have normally appeared in PAN’s 2020 Year in Review, but was postponed 12 months due to COVID-19 – there was a short lull before sports really began to take off.

Wheels had been in motion for awhile as local sports leagues and teams began to see some light at the end of the long pandemic tunnel, but, at least to this sports reporter, it felt like everything came back at once.

To steal a phrase from Hemingway, the return of sports came “gradually, then suddenly.”

After nearly two years spent wondering what, exactly, I was going to fill the Peace Arch News’ sports section with each week, I suddenly found myself with too many things to write about. It was like turning on a garden hose only to have Niagara Falls pour out.

This was all good news, of course – for me, but also, I’m sure, to those in the wider sports community.

Sure, maybe a few stories appeared online only, and not in our paper itself, and maybe once in awhile I had to use a figurative shoehorn to squeeze some things in, but it was a welcome change.

You’ll never hear me complain about having too many sports to cover – whatever keeps me from having to read another long-winded “Return to Play protocol” PDF is fine by me.

So now, here we are at the end of 2021, dealing with yet another COVID variant – Omicron, this time – that has already threatened to shut down pro sports, though (thankfully) has yet to disrupt things at the local level.

I think I can speak for everyone – in the sports world and beyond – in saying that I hope there are no additional disruptions to our lives.

That said, I think I’ll avoid making any further predictions in this space.

Fool me once, and all that.

When it comes to 2022, I will instead adopt a simpler plan – one that has through the years been poorly translated and attributed to French military leader Napoleon Bonaparte:

First I’ll show up, then I’ll see what happens.

It’s all anyone can really do.



sports@peacearchnews.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Sports