CERULLO: Disappointing end to Fall 2 shows pandemic still to be taken seriously

MIKE SPRINGER/Staff photoNewburyport's Jacob Buontempo is tackled by Ipswich's Henry Wright earlier this season. Newburyport saw its season end two-weeks early due to a COVID-19 outbreak within the program, one of several to affect local teams this Fall 2 season.

As the Fall 2 season comes to a close, it's hard not to feel a prevailing sense of relief.

Created to give athletes whose sports couldn't be held as scheduled a chance to compete, the Fall 2 season was undoubtedly a success. Local football, girls volleyball and indoor track athletes got to suit up, and even if it was only for a short time they got the opportunity to make the most of a bad situation after months of wondering if their time would ever come.

Yet it didn't always go smoothly and a lot of sacrifices were made along the way, and the season's disappointing ending is a reminder that we're not out of the woods. Not by a long shot.

This should have been Rivalry Week, when we hoped to celebrate the area's traditional Thanksgiving Day matchups, even if it meant doing so at a non-traditional time. But the coronavirus had other ideas. Newburyport and Triton football's seasons were both cut short by COVID-19 outbreaks, and now Amesbury and Pentucket will end their seasons with hastily arranged non-league matchups devoid of any history and pageantry that typically mark football season's end.

This after Newburyport girls volleyball saw a potentially historic CAL Tournament run go off the rails due to an outbreak before the league semifinal, and after Pentucket football fell two weeks behind the rest of the league after its own preseason outbreak. Georgetown football never got off the ground at all.

At this point disruptions like these aren't anything new. Teams regularly paused throughout the fall and winter seasons too, and in the case of Amesbury hockey and the Georgetown basketball teams the circumstances proved insurmountable. 

Frankly, it's all been exhausting, and if you're like me I'm sure you're ready to be done with it.

This past year has been brutal, and all of us have been negatively affected by the coronavirus in one way or another. Now that the vaccine rollout is picking up steam, the spring has arrived and warm weather is here, it feels like the end is finally in sight. 

There is a lot to be excited about. We've reached a point where the most vulnerable people have largely been vaccinated, and our understanding of COVID-19, its risks and how it spreads are much better understood. The disease has also proven far less lethal to younger people. According to a New York Times story published on Thursday, COVID-19 has killed fewer than 450 Americans under 18 compared to nearly 570,000 overall.

But children can still spread the virus, and the longer COVID-19 continues to circulate, the longer it will be before we can truly get back to normal. 

The reality is that while just over 50% of all Americans 16 and over have received at least one vaccine dose, the vast majority of local high school students remain unvaccinated. With the exception of a small handful with specific conditions, high schoolers didn't even become eligible in Massachusetts until this past Monday.

That means high school athletes are still just as susceptible to the disease now as they were a year ago, and if people aren't careful, outbreaks like the one we saw at Newburyport High this month could keep happening throughout the spring. 

Considering how last year's spring sports were wiped out entirely, the last thing we need is for this year's athletes – after nearly two years off — to suddenly find themselves waiting out yet another pause. These teams deserve a normal, disruption-free season, but that isn't going to happen if we let our guard down in the final seconds before the bell.

We need to buckle down and finish strong.

Now that vaccines are available to everyone 16 and older, those who are eligible – which now includes most of our area's varsity athletes – should try and take advantage as soon as possible. In the meantime, we all need to keep wearing masks, staying socially distant and doing all of the things that have worked to slow the spread throughout the pandemic.

If we do, then maybe we won't have to mark the end of the spring season with cancelations and shut downs like we did for Fall 2. And if we're lucky, maybe we'll even get to celebrate something much bigger than a state championship. 

Mac Cerullo can be reached at mcerullo@newburyportnews.com. Follow Mac on Twitter at @MacCerullo.

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