by Phil Blackwell
Late in February on a Friday evening in a world very different from the one currently in place, local high school boys basketball reached a milestone.
All four of the semifinalists in the Section III Class A playoffs hailed from the area, with Jamesville-DeWitt taking on East Syracuse Minoa and Christian Brothers Academy facing Bishop Grimes.
As it turned out, it was the Brothers who would claim the sectional title, knocking off the defending champion Red Rams in a 63-61 classic at SRC Arena that culminated a clean sweep by both CBA sides.
Earlier that same March 7 at Onondaga Community College’s other basketball venue, Allyn Hall, CBA toppled a dynasty.
Led by the school’s all-time leading scorer, Brooke Jarvis, the Brothers claimed a 45-42 decision, putting an end to J-D’s eight-year run at the top that included a trio of state championships from 2016 to 2018.
As it turned out, that wasn’t the only change. J-D head coach Rob Siechen decided to step down and take over as coach at another local power, Cicero-North Syracuse, replaced by modified and freshman coach Kurt Sweeney.
Back on the boys side, CBA’s season was a remarkable one, in that it started 1-4 and were still 5-6 as the midway point before rattling off 13 consecutive wins on the way to the sectional title, getting its long-time head coach, Buddy Wleklinski, to 500 career wins along the way.
And the Brothers prevailed 68-40 over Franklin Academy in a March 11 regional playoff game that turned out to be the last major high school sporting event in Central New York before COVID-19 shut everything down.
The accolades didn’t stop there, either, because in girls Class B basketball Bishop Grimes made an inspiring post-season run.
Starting out as a no. 13 seed, the Cobras upended no. 4 seed Adirondack, no. 5 seed Vernon-Verona-Sherrill and top seed Oneida on the way to the sectional finals, and then battled hard in the title game before falling to South Jefferson.
Not only was state championships in basketball, ice hockey and bowling canceled, so was the entire spring sports season as schools went all-remote from March until June.
With the virus still on the rampage, high-risk fall sports also fell by the wayside, including football, where CBA and Fayetteville-Manlius were poised to join J-D and ESM in Class A competition.
But the low-risk sports carried on with a modest, local regular-season slate in October and November, and no one did better than F-M’s boys soccer and ESM’s girls soccer teams.
In a year where coach Jeff Hammond achieved his own 500-win milestone, the boys soccer Hornets won all 11 of its games by a combined 55-5 margin and finished atop the state rankings, led by the brother duo of Cheech Pagano (18 goals, five assists) and Nino Pagano (17 goals, seven assists).
Meanwhile, ESM’s girls soccer team had its own magical 11-0 run, twice beating J-D and also defeating an F-M side that reached the state Class AA final a year ago. Spartans goalie Isabelle Chavoustie was an All-State first-team selection as eighth-grader Leah Rehm led the team with 16 goals and 12 assists.
F-M’s girls still had a fine season of its own as Lauren Clark netted first-team All-Staet honors, with the Hornets also getting undefeated seasons from its traditionally powerful cross country and girls tennis teams.
And Manlius-Pebble Hill senior Johnny Gruninger became the first golfer to claim both the Junior and Men’s Player of the Year honors from the Syracuse District Golf Association.