Slam Dunk

El Campo sophomore guard Rueben Owens II throws down a dunk against Sweeny earlier in the season. Owens is averaging 10.5 points a game.

When looking back at 2020, only one thing dominated the sports landscape: COVID-19.

The invisible impediment stopped sports and regular habits for a few months. Everything is getting back to normal, but COVID-19 has forced lasting changes like the wearing of masks at sporting events and social distancing.

Four short months into 2020, the University Interscholastic League (UIL) canceled spring athletics around the state.

Louise baseball had begun to find themselves as district play rolled around.

El Campo track had two athletes poised to medal, and maybe win, at state. The Ladybirds softball team was young, but ready to make a run during district.

The El Campo Ricebirds baseball team was firing on all cylinders. The Ricebirds were playing their final non-district game at their home tournament. No one had any idea that was going to be the end.

“I’m just really hoping that this isn’t the end,” senior Tyler Stephenson said following the Ricebirds final baseball game in 2020. “I just want to keep playing as long as I can.”

However, no one would take the field again. The gates remained locked, the school’s athletic facilities closed.

Throughout the summer, it was a dance of figuring out how to get back to regular life while also staying safe.

Eventually, a sense of normalcy in athletics around the area began to come back.

In El Campo, it was a girls’ Little League softball team that started playing first during the summer.

Kids kept their distance on the benches. They waved to each other after games instead of the normal handshake line, but sports were back.

“It’s good to be able to play some sports and play with my friends,” said Kirby Cortez, a 10-year-old who played in the softball league. (Before this) it was hard because I wasn’t really able to do anything. Now it’s easier to be around my friends.”

A couple of weeks later, the UIL lifted restrictions and summer workouts began.

With temperature checks, extra cleaning of athletic equipment and some social distancing, students got to be around other students while preparing to play the sports they love.

“We just kept working. I knew we were going to have a season,” incoming sophomore running back/defensive back Rueben Owens II said during summer workouts. “This coronavirus isn’t going anywhere. So I’m just happy we’re going to have a season.”

El Campo and Louise students both went on to play football and volleyball without much strife.

Volleyball wasn’t able to have tournaments, but they had a normal season and the Ladybirds went to the second round of the playoffs for the first time since 2015.

Louise football ripped off a 4-0 season start, which also hadn’t been done since 2015. The Hornets lost in the first round of the playoffs.

El Campo football started the year as a top-10 team in the state. After a tough second-round matchup against Kilgore, El Campo’s season ended.

The 2020 athletic year ended with El Campo Athletic Director Wayne Condra retiring after nearly two decades on the Ricebirds sidelines.

In January, El Campo hopes to name their next athletic director.

With football and volleyball completing their seasons and basketball and soccer under way, hopefully, baseball, track and softball will get a chance to play.

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