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The Press Box for 1/13

By Randy Rutherford - Staff Writer | Jan 13, 2021

The one thing that has made sports in general this past year hard for everyone is the lack of spectators. Although some sports have been able to carve out a season, most have not. The roar of the crowd is gone, but the game tries to play on. The excitement that is generated in all games is directly tied to the fans. Tailgating, booing, and yelling at the officials is missing. We need these things back to make it complete. Fans are the money maker in college sports, while TV money is the motivation for the NFL and NBA, but it’s live, present, warm bodies in the stands at all venues that generate excitement. Not the fake canned noise to which we have become accustomed.

This disappointment for sports fans shrinks in importance when placed beside other tragic events our country has endured and continues to experience. Yet when we add all these things together, it is almost impossible to think of 2020 in a positive light. Still I have got to believe there has been some good in the last 12 months. My mother always said, “Try to look on the bright side.” Her advice never failed me. So here are few good things that came to mind in the world of sports and here in our little piece of Almost Heaven.

College football found a way to have a season. Some teams were able to play a full schedule while others faced many schedule changes and lost opportunities for games to COVID that affected the outcome of an otherwise promising season. Some teams were faced with only playing six or seven games while others were able to complete their full schedule. It doesn’t seem fair for those that had the shortened schedule to qualify for post season play while others that played all their games are not competing in the post season. Hopefully, in the future, conferences will not have to change the rules midstream to get one of their teams in the playoffs. Some conferences like the Mountain East Conference, (West Liberty is a member) have been forced to postpone their seasons until the spring, but they will get to play. The bright side here is a champion will be determined and recognized even if they were somewhat lucky.

High School football playoffs were interrupted with COVID issues, and some teams were forced to forfeit playoff games. Even in regular seasons, championship battles don’t always determine the best team. Upsets happen to the strongest contenders. Nevertheless, winning a championship is hard work and no amount of luck is a replacement for talent. The bright spot here is State Champions were still crowned, and the thrill of being State Champion is a memory that will last forever in the hearts and minds of the kids that won the honor.

Another highlight in sports this past year was the NBA. Sounds crazy but they played in a bubble. Yes, “bubble.” Granted, it seemed like a ridiculous concept when the league rolled it out to get the 2019-20 season restarted. All games were played in the same location at Walt Disney World in Bay Lake, Florida and all teams stayed at Disney World hotels. This ended up being a great idea as the number of COVID cases was significantly reduced because teams did not have to travel to different cities. Net result – NBA Champions were crowned.

The NFL found a way to have a season. Many players opted out to not take the chance of being infected, but their teams played on. The Cleveland Browns finally had a winning season and are looking to make the playoffs. The Pittsburgh Steelers clinched the AFC North and started the season 11-0. Some games were postponed but still managed to be played. Coaches and Players have done a good job adapting to the limits placed on them due to COVID. Virtual meetings and watching film from their homes has become the norm. NFL coaches in the past have been known to work grueling hours sometimes even sleeping at team facilities, but this year all around the league coaches have embraced working from home. It has allowed them to spend more time with their families, which has been a wonderful unforeseen blessing. And now we are about to enter the payoffs and a Super Bowl Champion will be crowned. An added bright side at the Rutherford house would be to see the Pittsburgh Steelers battle for the title.

And while I have listed bright sides in the sports community, I also want to mention some positive happenings in our own small town. Sistersville is a rural community that doesn’t get many outside visitors on a daily basis. Special times of year, like holidays and SHS Alumni, see an influx of people, but other than that we remain rather steady. And because of our location and population, it is often an uphill battle finding funds for needed civic repairs and improvements. The installation of new water lines (although messy) is an example of years of planning and hard work by our city government which is a real bright spot for our community this year. We just have to get through the mud.

Another big plus for our community, after a year and a half of inactivity, the Sistersville Ferry resumed operations on July 2. The ferry is one of five operating on the Ohio. The others are at Augusta, Ky.; Cincinnati; Rising Sun, Ind.; and Cave-in-Rock, Ill. Finding a pilot for the four-day-a-week seasonal job proved almost impossible, but fortunately Captain Bo Hause agreed to operate the ferry during the normal season of March to October. Hause works other jobs for the city the remainder of the year. The ferry has been a mainstay in the Sistersville area for almost 200 years, but its future was questionable. The ferry is more than a connection between the communities of Sistersville and Fly, Ohio. It’s also a tourist draw for travelers and motorcycle riders, and available for rental scenic tours for families and groups. Welcome back, Sistersville Ferry. We need you!

Another uplifting event during a hard year was the Mountaineer Food Bank making stops in Sistersville and New Martinsville during the holiday season working to fulfill their pledge to meet the needs of West Virginians facing food insecurities. Their visits came at a critical time as the area continues to face an increase in demand for food assistance. It is the hard work being done locally by member agencies and feeding sites throughout West Virginia that is helping put food on the tables of area families. Food Banks are feeding 18% of the population in West Virginia and are a vital infrastructure especially during the pandemic. In this season of gratitude, I would like to express thanks to those wonderful businesses, churches and individuals who support Mountaineer Food Bank and its member agencies through donation and volunteer hours. You are truly the bright side.

Although I have reviewed some of the positives in 2020, we must extend our condolences to all of those that have lost loved ones in the past year. Many were lost to COVID-19 and for those families 2020 will be one never forgotten. Not only did families face great loss, they often were separated from their loved ones during their final hours. A more brutal gut-punch I can’t imagine. Even the way we support friends during grief changed when stay at home orders and social distancing were enforced. Old fashioned letter writing to express sympathy and concern was once again called upon to relay our feelings.

And finally the brightest light of all! Multiple vaccines for COVID-19 have been released and vaccinations have begun all across the country starting with our heroic first responders, physicians, and frontline workers. Next in line are our most vulnerable citizens in senior care facilities. As we move forward let’s hope and pray we get this pandemic behind us and 2021 can begin to get us back to normal.

Oh, I forgot one last bright side. I think we all can be happy 2020 ended with a WHITE CHRISTMAS. My grandkids loved it!