With the book about to close on 2020, it’s time to look back on the year that was in McKinney-area athletics.
This year was like no other in recent memory, with high school sports around the country feeling the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Amid the trying year, which included the cancellation of numerous UIL sports in the spring and the week-to-week uncertainties that plagued teams during the fall, programs from McKinney ISD still managed to turn in their share of highlight moments.
The McKinney Courier-Gazette sports staff has compiled its top 10 sports stories of the year, concluding with the second half of that lineup.
5. Henry’s emotional college signing
The road is different for every student-athlete who earns the opportunity to ply his or her craft at the college level. On Dec. 16, with a crowd of teammates, family members and coaches on hand, McKinney North senior JJ Henry revealed his.
As the Bulldogs’ star receiver finalized his commitment to play football at Ole Miss, he recounted the past year-and-a-half of his life, during which both his mother, Tamika Matlock, and one of his best friends, Aaron Hill, passed away.
An emotional Henry said that football was outlet that helped him cope with the tragedy, adding that he puts their two names on his wrist tape before every game, striving to play in their honor.
The wide receiver did just that by amassing one of the most decorated careers of any football player to ever pass through McKinney ISD. Henry exits his time as a Bulldog with program records in receptions, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns.
4. Frazier promoted to AD
A changing of the guard came down during the fall when Jennifer Frazier was named McKinney ISD’s next athletic director. Frazier had been MISD’s associate athletic director and assistant athletic director since 2016.
Frazier took over for longtime AD Shawn Pratt, who moved into a different role within MISD as the school district’s assistant superintendent of student activities for health and safety. Pratt had led MISD athletics since 2008.
Under Pratt’s watch, MISD achieved great heights with individual and state championships, program-record playoff runs and the creation of the school district’s $70 million, state-of-the-art athletics venue, McKinney ISD Stadium.
Frazier was in lockstep with Pratt in overseeing the past few years of MISD athletics and will take the reins of the school district in 2021 and beyond.
3. One game, two stadiums
For three-and-a-half quarters, the Nov. 19 football game between McKinney North and Sherman fit the bill of just another competitive, back-and-forth scrap in District 7-5A Division I.
It all gave way to one of the more improbable finishes in recent MISD history in a game ultimately won by Sherman, 44-35.
The Bearcats held a 37-35 lead with 2:25 left in the fourth quarter and had just watched an onside kick attempt by North careen out of bounds. It was at that moment when a power outage shut down McKinney ISD Stadium.
With the game’s venue cloaked in darkness, nearly 30 minutes passed before the decision was made to resume the contest a few miles north at Ron Poe Stadium.
Both teams boarded school buses and fans made the short drive up U.S. Highway 75 to MISD’s eldest football stadium. Nearly 80 minutes after the initial outage, the Bulldogs and Bearcats resumed play.
Sherman scored an insurance touchdown to seal the win, closing out a ballgame that took just over four hours and two different stadiums to complete.
2. Lionettes make run to state semifinals
Despite finishing third in its own district, the McKinney girls basketball team authored a memorable postseason that resulted in the program’s first trip to the state tournament since 1998.
The Lionettes had a bumpy road to close the regular season, dropping three of their final six games before catching fire in the playoffs with five consecutive wins. McKinney hung its hat on defense, holding three opponents to under 40 points, including a defensive grinder against rival Plano in the regional finals. Although the Lady Wildcats swept McKinney during the regular season, the Lionettes got the last laugh with a 32-28 victory.
Undeterred by the stature of their state semifinal opponent — unbeaten, nationally ranked Cypress Creek — McKinney hung tough with one of the top teams in the country before falling at the wire, 54-51.
Alums Erin Fry and Nic Porter scored 16 and 12 points, respectively, in the state semifinal — leading a battle-tested senior class that closed out their high school careers with one of the most memorable runs in program history.
1. The COVID season
The COVID-19 pandemic defined 2020, and that includes a trying year for many involved in high school sports.
With the virus forcing professional and collegiate leagues around the country to suspend or cancel play in mid-March, high schools had the seasons for myriad sports put on hold. The UIL handed down multiple suspensions of play before making the call on April 17 to cancel the remainder of the sports calendar for the 2019-20 school year.
In just over one month’s time, seasons were left without closure and countless high school seniors were unable to end their athletics careers on their own terms.
With countywide shutdowns and stay-at-home policies implemented, athletic programs had to get creative to conduct their offseasons — turning to video conferencing an at-home workouts to keep athletes engaged and active.
Teams began to creep towards normalcy in June when the UIL allowed limited summer workouts — prefacing a school year where coaches, athletes and fans adapted to various protocols as teams tried to play during the pandemic.
Adversity was inevitable, with countless teams around the state battling game cancellations, postponements and in-season shutdowns due to virus outbreaks within their programs.
The ride was indeed bumpy and riddled with uncertainty, but the UIL remained on track to conclude its fall sports schedule and, in November and December, crowned state champions in football, volleyball, cross country and tennis.