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Thankful for a memorable season

Although we are clearly a country divided, there’s one thing that almost everyone can agree on: 2020 has been for the birds.

Still, as we sit down to celebrate Thanksgiving today, there is definitely a lot to be thankful for.

On Monday night, the Bellefonte Area High School girls’ soccer team closed out its 2020 season with a socially-distanced celebration in the high school cafeteria. Pre-packaged meals were the order of the day and awards were handed out, though there were no high-fives or hugs given.

Back in August, there was no way, I thought, that we would even have a season. Heck, I was against playing any and all high school sports in the midst of a global pandemic.

There were all sorts of rules and regulations — self-reporting, temperature checks, mandatory masking and socially distancing the players and coaches. Sure, all that stuff felt weird — and it was. However, once we began playing, it was soccer. We didn’t have big crowds or concession stands, but the game remained the same.

A few games into the season, I started to come around. Deep down, I wanted a season. Not for me, but for my daughter, Maddie. You only have one senior year. I tried to recall how I would have handled it as a student-athlete. I have always told my children to finish what they start. Whether it’s a school project or a sports season, give it your all.

That’s what Maddie did. The wins didn’t come easy for our team, but there were a handful. The Lady Raiders got hot at the end of the year with big wins over Philipsburg-Osceola, Penns Valley and Tyrone to make a case for the playoffs. In the postseason, they would take on Tyrone on a rainy night at P-O. The game was one for the ages. A scoreless tie through regulation. And overtime. And a second. The game would go to a shootout and Maddie was the first shooter. She buried her shot past the Tyrone keeper. It was easily one of my favorite moments as a soccer coach/dad. As the official scorekeeper for Bellefonte, I was on the field to witness it.

When the Lady Raiders won several shots later, we hugged. It was a hug so tight, it’s hard to describe. We were waterlogged, exhausted and cold, but if I could have made that hug last an hour, I would have.

Ask any student-athlete and they will tell you that senior seasons are filled with highs and lows, ups and downs. You win some, you lose some, but you always come back for more.

Our season would come to an end in the District 6 Class AAA championship game against Hollidaysburg at Altoona’s Mansion Park. It was a bittersweet ending to a season unlike any other.

At the season-ending, socially-distanced celebration Monday. Maddie and I said farewell to our soccer family. She earned the team’s Offensive MVP Award and called it a career. During her junior season, she sustained a severe concussion on the field and missed more than half the season. There was a time when we weren’t certain if she would ever play soccer again. When COVID-19 hit, we thought that might be it for the game she’s loved since she was three.

But she recovered, came back strong and finished what she started. Our league doesn’t have a Comeback Player of the Year Award, but for my money, Maddie Morelli is it.

So, in a year of nothing but lemons, we made some lemonade — and some pretty good memories, too.

My advice today? Look around. Be thankful. Soak it in.

Happy Thanksgiving.

——

Chris Morelli is a staff writer for The Express.

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