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Welcome back to high school sports

Friday night lights will be here in a few short weeks. Cheerleaders will be hoisting the bust-throughs, the band will be playing the fight songs, and fans will start piling into stadiums to watch their favorite teams play. Volleyball teams will be hitting the courts, and cross-country runners will be pounding the trails.

This time this past year, many were speculating whether there would be fall sports – and, if so, how long they would last through the coronavirus pandemic.

The Alabama High School Athletic Association was determined to make sure teams were able to participate, even if teams and fans had to follow some stringent protocols to make it work.

As it happened, Alabama was the only state to start sports on time and finish. Sure, there were many bumps in the road along the way, as players were quarantined and some games had to be cancelled. But the show went on.

Schools were given guidelines to follow but very little in the way of enforcement mechanisms.

For the most part, everyone did what they were asked to do so student-athletes across the state could keep their seasons intact.

This year, expect everything to look more like 2019 than 2020. Although recommended, gone will be mandatory mask wearing, caution tape and social distancing in the stands.

That rarely happened this past year anyway.

Alabama still ranks at the bottom of vaccination rates. Unfortunately, coronavirus cases, hospitalizations and deaths are on the way back up.

Students and teachers are already being impacted by several positive cases across the county before they have even had the chance to return to school.

No one knows what direction all of this will take over the course of the next four to six weeks. One can only hope the impact will be minimal and the current rise in cases follows what happened in India and the United Kingdom – a sharp increase followed by an equally sharp decrease.

Unfortunately, so much is still unknown about the virus and its new variants that things could go south. No one knows.

That is what makes many parents, teachers and students anxious about the start of the school year.

Sports give people some solace in the midst of the chaos. That is what people like about sports. It is organized chaos with clear start and end times. Clear winners and losers.

Sports allow us to put away the hard realities of real life and escape into a game for a short time. We get the opportunity to watch our children do what they love.

High school sports are the last bastion of amateur athletics. College athletes can now get paid for their name, image and likeness – see Auburn’s Bo Nix and Alabama’s Bryce Young.

And sorry, football fans. Your quarterback will not be the highestpaid athlete in Alabama. That honor will go to Auburn’s incoming freshman gymnast Suni Lee, fresh off a gold-medal performance in Tokyo.

High school sports are mainly free of the ridiculous political statements that we’ve come to expect from athletes in professional and collegiate sports.

Finally, high school sports are cheap and affordable to watch compared to their college and professional counterparts. A family of four can go to a high school football game for about $50-60 for tickets and food.  A trip to Auburn or Tuscaloosa can cost at minimum $500 and upwards of a couple of thousand or more.

So, welcome back high school sports. We’ve missed you.