D6 wraps up challenging season

This past week, District 6 finished up the final championship games in baseball and softball of its scholastic year.

Anyone reading this before 2020 would probably wonder why that would be the lead of a column, much less even mentioned, as playing out the schedule and awarding championships to deserving teams has always taken for granted.

But after the coronavirus pandemic wiped out the PIAA basketball championships during the 2019-2020 winter season and the entire spring high school sports slate last year, everything this year felt like it could be taken away at any moment.

Thankfully, it wasn’t.

District champions were crowned in every sport despite delays in both the fall and winter seasons, and a lot of the credit for that needs to go to District 6 Chairman Bill Marshall, his committee and sports chairmen and all of the school districts in the area working together.

“I want to thank the District 6 committee for their commitment to the student athletes,” Marshall said. “We had a lot of meetings and a lot of discussions on the phone via text, email and with the championships as we worked through COVID issues with teams, I was working through the sports chairs to figure out solutions, and again our member schools and our superintendents, athletic directors, principals, I want to say a huge thank you for keeping the lines of communication open and understanding that sometimes the solutions were things we never had to deal with before. I think we made this year’s championship experience a very positive one because of everyone involved.”

Marshall said communication and the ability to adjust on the fly was key.

“The communication between our athletic directors, our member schools and myself as the District 6 chairman was outstanding,” Marshall said. “There was an open flow of communication that was daily, and that’s what made it work. Without the communication that we established in the fall, we couldn’t have made it through the winter when we were faced with shutdowns and the delays in the winter sports season.”

High school football season was pushed back, the postseason started early and games were canceled the day they were supposed to be played — sometimes just hours before kickoff. But most of the area teams played close to a normal 10-game schedule by the time it was over, and district and state champions were still crowned.

“The decision to push back fall sports helped us get things moving academically,” Marshall said. “When you look at the fall sports seasons, we did have a number of cancellations, but the actions of the PIAA Board of Directors in allowing teams to compete even after the district deadlines and playoffs had started was a big deal. I know that myself and the committee, we were focused on getting competitions for our student athletes.”

When it came time for winter sports, the season was put on hold by new state restrictions after just one weekend of games. When teams returned to action in January, and February for some programs, many teams competed in front of no crowd. At times, it felt almost like a Saturday-morning scrimmage, but it meant a lot to the athletes, even if they were wearing masks. Meanwhile, schools tried to do everything they could so parents could still see their kids play.

“Our member schools adapted and made it possible for parents to watch on livestreams,” Marshall said. “We got the season in, and we awarded district championships.”

Throughout both the fall and winter sports season, no one ever really relaxed. It always felt like everything could be called off at any time, but the District 6 committee was fueled by not allowing more hearts to be broken.

“Last March, we had some local basketball teams that were still in contention for state championships, and those dreams ended,” Marshall said. “We also lost spring sports last year, and the frustrations that our seniors had last year was in the back of our minds.”

As the spring sports season began, high school sports started to look a lot more like they did before 2020.

Gone, for the most part, were masks during competition. Fans were able to attend events without many limitations.

Last week’s championship games at Peoples Natural Gas Field and at Saint Francis University were attended by large crowds, and the atmosphere seemed as close to normal as anyone is willing to be after going through a pandemic.

“As an educator for 32 years, to see the normalcy for our students and student athletes returning, to see them smile — you can just tell a weight has been lifted off everybody’s shoulders,” Marshall said. “I think it was a fitting end of all of our class of 2021 students. These are the kids who lost their junior year. I think what we were seeing was a lot of relief on behalf of the coaches, the member schools and the student athletes. There was also a lot of pride that we were able to give all of those student athletes in the spring everything that they missed last year.”

Ticketing could stick

One aspect of this past week’s championship games that was different than the past is the use of HomeTown Ticketing as the exclusive way to purchase entry into the games.

Online ticket sales began prior to the pandemic but became a staple during it. Now it appears that it might be here to stay.

“The first year we did that with basketball, there were people struggling with the app and everything else, but this year through the championships, I have gotten four or five calls each season in fall, winter and spring from community members that want to go to a game but don’t know how to use HomeTown tickets, but we can work through that,” Marshall said. “I do think that you’re going to see District 6 strongly consider a move to full online ticketing for the 2021-2022 sports season.”

Tickets for this week’s PIAA baseball and softball games is also being handled by HomeTown Ticketing, and one of the advantages to the system is that on Friday, as soon as the sites were announced, tickets were immediately available for purchase.

“We are going to seriously discuss in June a move to completely using hometown tickets for all of our championships,” Marshall said. “It is a much more efficient process. We aren’t scrambling to get tickets out to host sites, and it’s just so much easier and so much more efficient. I think from the feedback I’ve heard, the parents, the fans, the student bodies would much rather purchase tickets that way.”

Personally, I have used online ticketing to go to Major League Baseball games and will be using it this fall when Penn State converts to online ticketing, and I have experienced no issues. It is fast and efficient for those who have and understand the technology, and I can completely see where Marshall is coming from in his support for its continued use.

However, neither my father or my brother have smartphones. My dad has never used a computer, which I realize puts him in a large minority. I play golf with a couple guys who tried to attend Wednesday’s Tyrone-Central District 6 championship baseball game and needed to use someone else’s phone to get into the game, which caused them to miss the start of it. I work with another guy who arrived at Hollidaysburg’s District 6 baseball final on Tuesday with cash in his pocket to attend the game but turned away when he realized he needed to buy tickets online — he also does not have a smartphone.

It could be that I am surrounded by a higher-than-average amount of people that don’t have the technology, but it does make me wonder if more than “four or five” people per season would be bothered by a full switch to HomeTown Ticketing.

It’s certainly worth continued use, but having a limited number of tickets available for purchase in person for people uncomfortable with the process would help please a group of people who are simply trying to support scholastic sports.

Michael Boytim can be reached at mboytim@altoonamirror.com or 946-7521. Follow him on Twitter @BoytimMichael


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