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One year later: The day the sports world stood still

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Isaac Likekele took the in-bound pass, drove the length of the court and dodged a defender before laying the ball in with his left hand with four seconds left in the game.

That play punctuated Oklahoma State 's rally past Iowa State, 72-71, in front of a sold-out crowd in Kansas City in a Big 12 Tournament opener.

One year ago.

The World Health Organization classified COVID-19 as a pandemic earlier that day and soon OSU's sports seasons were classified as over. Finished. Complete, at least for the spring and summer.

The first domino

Far from Kansas City, inside Chesapeake Energy Arena the same day, the Thunder and Jazz were ready for tip-off on March 11, 2020.

The fans in attendance, expecting spectacular theatre, raw emotion and an escape from “real-world” problems, were soon told none of that would happen.

Instead, the COVID19 story came to Oklahoma City, sending shock waves throughout the United States. The virus didn’t infect its first person or take its first life that night, since it had been looming around for almost four months.

It wasn’t even real for many Americans. Until that night.

Thirty-seven minutes after the game was supposed to begin, more than 18-thousand fans were asked to orderly evacuate the building. Each one of them must’ve known it was COVID-related, many fearing they had been exposed to the virus.

Utah's Rudy Gobert was revealed to be the NBA’s first positive case and the league responded by postponing its season.

The first domino had fallen.

March (Sad)ness

Former OSU guard Lindy Waters III woke up the next morning hoping his basketball career would survive the day and the Cowboys would take on Kansas, as scheduled.

He wanted to go out the right way, either with a trophy in his hand or giving all he had left in a loss to a better team. Instead, his season ended the night before, with the remainder of the Big 12 Tournament canceled.

“I knew it was a possibility with the NBA suspending their season,” Waters said. “It was just something very difficult to wrap my head around.”

The Big Ten canceled its tournament at 11:45 a.m, and it took less than 60 minutes for the other Power 5 conferences to do the same.

The last college basketball game of the season was between St. John’s and Creighton in the Big East Tournament. The teams went into the locker rooms for halftime and never returned.

The NCAA canceled all remaining sports later that afternoon, most notably its moneymaker, March Madness. There would be no unforgettable moments, Cinderella stories or heart-stopping buzzer beaters.

What actually matters

Baseball quickly became something it never had been for coach Josh Holliday ― secondary.

The U.S. alone has lost over half a million lives to this virus, easily the highest death toll in the world. It has affected every human whether they’ve been infected or not, almost 50 million Americans filed for unemployment by midsummer.

And when COVID took baseball away, it reminded Holliday that the things that actually matter don’t involve a ball and a bat.

“A lot of people went through some really tough times in the last year as a result of this pandemic,” Holliday said. “To just not be able to play baseball is very, very small in comparison to those who have fought and suffered.”

A return to ‘normal’

Softball coach Kenny Gajewski couldn’t wait for his athletes to come back in the fall.

The Cowgirls had dominated their opponents, winning 12 consecutive games before the season ended.

“I was so happy when we got back,” Gajewski said. “The band was together, but they were a mess. They were not what we left.”

Once Gajewski saw that, he went to the team leaders and asked why they weren’t the same.

“They said, ‘You just don’t know how hard it’s been,'” Gajewski said. “And I don’t as a 20-year-old kid. I started to pick these kids off one at a time and figure out what they needed. I’m not a very good softball coach. I’m a better people person.”

This season, the Cowgirls are 18-1 and their chemistry issues are behind them.

Similarly, every athletic program at OSU has flourished this year.

“I don’t know that anybody has handled the pandemic any better than what we’ve done here,” Gajewski said. “It’s a model of success.”