Many people will reflect on the last year as one of disease and hardship, with perhaps more negatives than positives.
In the sports realm, fewer fans could attend games during the pandemic. More athletes were forced to sit out due to COVID-19 tracing.
The TSSAA might have inadvertently revealed a silver lining, though, when it compiled and released its summary of disciplinary actions in 2020-21. The total number of players who were ejected from games decreased by 48% from the previous year — down from 628 to 303.
TSSAA executive director Bernard Childress scratched his head at that figure.
Were players simply on their best behavior because the return to sports late last summer and early autumn was anything but guaranteed?
Were sports viewed as a privilege, not a right, this year?
“I made that same statement to someone today. When we apply the context, it’s almost like people were so appreciative that they were there and that their kids were able to participate, that I really feel like that played a factor in it,” Childress said.
There were fewer games for several reasons. Some were canceled or never played due to contact tracing. In the case of Metro Nashville Public Schools, the season was shortened.
In any case, football showed one of the biggest decreases, with a 52% drop in player ejections.
Across all sports, there were 177 fewer ejections for fighting or obscene gestures, a 32% decrease.
By August, professional leagues had found ways to return to play with help from numerous financial and logistical resources such as COVID tests and facilities for playing in “bubble” atmospheres.
High schools never had that luxury, making their return more methodical.
Darrin Joines oversees the nine high school athletic departments in Williamson County. He tends to get pulled into matters of misconduct or unsportsmanlike conduct.
But he fielded fewer concerns about that this past year.
“To be honest, there were fewer people complaining about games. Usually something happens, but there was less of that,” Joines said. “There was such a bigger focus on ‘we’re glad we’re playing this year.’”
Fewer fans at games might have played a factor too, Joines believes. Attendance was limited at the discretion of each district.
“Sometimes fans – and fans are great, they have the best passion – but sometimes the reality of it is there are people [at games] riling [players] up so to speak,” he said.
It was a challenging campaign for players, fans, coaches and administrators, but the TSSAA still managed to finish the season on schedule.
Time will tell if 2020-21 was a better season for sportsmanship due to the looming threats brought on by the pandemic.
“But you’ve got to be pleased with those numbers when you look at those incidents of unsportsmanlike behavior did go down quite a bit,” Childress said. “We’re pleased with that.”