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In this convergence of medical, social, financial and emotional controversies, we have directly and indirectly felt the unprecedented absence of team sports.

Think of what the community of cheering for a pro team, a college program or your neighborhood high school could have meant for folks of all social circles during this time.

Of course, that is impossible during the fight to curb and curtail COVID-19.

Still, among the few universal viewpoints we can share in our polarized positioning these days is empathy for those impacted by the coronavirus. And chief among them in sports was the huge collection of high school athletes who had their 2019-2020 year interrupted or outright canceled.

To that end, and for those of you looking for an escape, at least for a bit, from protests and partisan politics, from masks and misunderstandings, from isolation or irritation, check out timesfreepress.com Thursday at 7 p.m. That's when sports editor Stephen Hargis, longtime TFP sports writer David Paschall and a slew of special guests and honorees will have the virtual Best of Preps banquet. Among the many things this paper means to this community, the Best of Preps banquet is as special as any. And the exhaustive effort put in to continue that tradition, even in such never-before-seen times, makes me proud.

Proud as a TFP employee, as someone who lives in this community, as someone who values athletics at every level and as someone longing to be reminded why the struggles mean so much.

"When we told people we were going to have the banquet, they were really glad," Hargis said. "But they all wanted to know what we were going to do for the spring sports."

Almost all of the spring sports got canceled. The only non-spring sport team locally that was not allowed to finish was the amazing Cleveland High boys' basketball team, which was in the Class AAA state tournament when the coronavirus called checkmate on everything.

Hargis knows the value of prep sports, to our paper and to our community, more than just about anyone. He has covered high school sports since the Bush administration — yeah, Daddy Bush — and he's worked more fall Friday nights than anyone this side of Randy Fairbanks or Wayne Turner.

So when he noted that this spring would have been a Chattanooga-area onslaught of success, it's hard not to agree. To his point:

> Baylor School baseball and softball teams were going for their third and sixth state titles, respectively, and considering their loaded rosters — the Baylor baseball team had nine players signed or committed to play at the collegiate level — the smart money was on each;

> GPS, Sale Creek and Sequatchie County had state title goals in softball, too; Gordon Lee and Bradley Central also had championship baseball aspirations;

> Arts & Sciences track stars Brevin Sims, who already has eight individual state titles, and Alayah Dozier, who had three individual titles and a relay title last year, would have been again among the most decorated at Spring Fling;

> McCallie and the trio of soccer juggernauts in Whitfield County in Georgia assuredly would have been among the best in the area as well as the nation.

In a time when we have lost so much as a collective, remembering what these teams and individuals were ready to accomplish is truly important. And honoring those who reaped individual highs, including Madison Haynes, to lifetime memories like McCallie's football state championship back when we cheered, cringed and cried about our sports together is more important now than maybe ever before. That's true whether it's in person at the Chattanooga Convention Center or at home on your laptop.

Join me and watch, and remember how much better it was when we were together in competition and purpose and in spirit as well as presence.

Thank you, Best of Preps, for reminding us about the best and why we need to get back to our next normal so we can continue to aim to be the best.

Contact Jay Greeson at jgreeson@timesfreepress.com.

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Jay Greeson
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