Danehy: The High School Football Season Didn't Have to End This Way

The 1979 Amphi High football team went undefeated for the entire season. They needed a stifling 15-0 win over powerhouse Sunnyside to reach the state playoffs and a gutsy goal-line stand in the final two minutes of a 7-0 semifinal win over Apollo to reach the state title game. Amphi cruised in that championship game, overpowering Mesa Mountain View, 27-0. It was the last time that a Tucson team won the state's highest division.

Eighteen years later, Amphi again went undefeated through the regular season and cruised through the first three rounds of state. They would again face Mesa Mountain View, a school with an enrollment so large (more than twice that of Amphi) that it had an entirely separate campus for its 1,000-person freshman class. Mountain View scored late to take the lead and a last-second Amphi pass into the end zone was broken up.

This year, the Amphi Panther football team also finished its season undefeated. But it didn't win a conference championship or make it to the state playoffs. This year's team went 4-0, combining a stout defense with a withering running attack to win the games by a combined score of 156-36. In a normal year, they would have made it to state and once you get to the playoffs, who knows what happens? But this is the Year of COVID and that's all anybody will remember.

The football season was abruptly shut down as COVID cases began to spike in Pima County and across the country. One rumor going around is that the post-game activities (but not the games themselves), with family and friends hanging around as they did in the pre-COVID days, were identified as super-spreader events. A different rumor was that the school superintendents asked the Pima County Health Department to cancel the rest of the season so that the superintendents wouldn't catch all the flak from angry parents. It's entirely possible that both rumors are true.

In an infinitesimally small way, the Amphi kids were relatively lucky. They got to play four games. Marana High only played three, while Ironwood Ridge and Mountain View played only two games each (going a combined 1-3 in those four games). Only Canyon Del Oro matched Amphi's game total, winning three straight after dropping their season opener.

In the life-or-death world of the novel coronavirus, many people would put high school football pretty low on the Overall Importance Scale. But they would only be partially right. One of the few significant things I've learned in this life is that you can't tell someone how they should feel. You can argue politics or sports or the weather, but you should never say, "That shouldn't make you angry!" or "Why would that upset you? It wouldn't bother me."

I've interviewed CEOs of big corporations whose eyes light up when they talk about how their team went to state their senior year. You can't tell them that high school sports aren't important and you certainly can't tell the kids who got cheated out of their senior year of football that it's not that big a deal. That kid is going to feel cheated for the rest of his life.

The worst part of this whole thing is that, for the football player, just like the kid who didn't get to march at graduation or the couple that had to postpone their big wedding (or the poor soul on the ventilator, fighting for breath), IT DIDN'T HAVE TO BE THIS WAY!

We could have/should have been Americans about it. All my life, America has been the best at everything (except soccer and nobody really cares about soccer). We watched other countries (South Korea, Germany, New Zealand) squish the virus like the bug that it is. And these are not authoritarian countries, dictatorships where people can be ordered to stay indoors and to wear masks. These are democratic countries where each individual decided to do what was best for everybody.

However, those moves required respect for others, self-sacrifice, and trust in science. Somehow, those things became in short supply in this country. We all know what happened and each of knows on which side of the Great Divide we reside. There is no need to rehash that here. You know who you are...and the people standing six feet away from you, wearing masks, know who (and what) you are, as well.

Many of the players started practicing in the brutal heat of August in this, the hottest year of all time. They toiled through all of September and October in hopes of getting in at least a partial season. In every other year, the regular season ends around Halloween. This year, that's when it started. And because of the irresponsibility of the masses, the kids couldn't even make to Thanksgiving. Shame on us.

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