Ranking the top Delaware Online sports stories of 2020

The years can sometimes blend together in sports, as the long seasons play out and the same big events are contested annually, often won by the same dominant teams or athletes.

However, like in every other aspect of life, 2020 will stand out in sports forever.

Virtually every sport stopped abruptly in March due to the rapidly emerging coronavirus pandemic. And while events gradually began to return three months later, they weren’t the same.

Fans have been banned or severely restricted almost everywhere. Masks, constant coronavirus tests and social distancing are now every bit as important as blocking and tackling.

Sanford's Nnanna Njoku draws an offensive foul on Dover's Elijah Allen (5) in the Warriors' 48-45 win in the 2019 DIAA Boys Basketball Tournament final. The teams were on course for a rematch in 2020, but the tournament was canceled before the semifinal round due to the coronavirus.

But all that turmoil has produced plenty of news, and there are always good stories to tell. Here are the top stories of 2020 from Delaware Online’s sportswriters, the work that kept our loyal readers informed and entertained throughout a year unlike any other.

1. Sports go silent

In just five days from March 8-12, virtually all sports – from the DIAA boys and girls basketball tournaments to the University of Delaware to the 76ers, Phillies, Flyers and Eagles to the NCAA Tournament to the PGA Tour – stopped. Here’s how we broke it all down at the end of a tumultuous week.

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2. UD football postponed

On July 17, The University of Delaware announced it was moving fall sports to the spring because of the ongoing pandemic. The decision came in conjunction with a Colonial Athletic Association announcement regarding football, though all fall sports would later receive the same conference-wide switch.

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Smyrna's Hugo Harp takes a victory lap after winning his third straight DIAA individual wrestling championship. The hardships Harp overcame and the bond he built with coach Aaron Harris made for one of the most compelling stories in Delaware sports.

3. Hugo wins again

Smyrna’s Hugo Harp joined Caesar Rodney senior Jackson Dean as the 34th and 35th three-time champions in the DIAA Individual Wrestling Tournament’s 64-year history. But as Jeff Neiburg’s reporting would show later, there was much, much more to Harp’s story.

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4. Kobe Bryant tragedy

Kobe Bryant’s tragic death stunned the sports world on Jan. 27, especially close to home as Bryant spent his high school years in the Philadelphia area. Allen Iverson, for one, described the impact Bryant had on his life, beginning when Bryant was an 18-year-old and culminating in one of Iverson’s final games, when he went head-to-head against Bryant in a meaningless regular-season game.

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5. Hurts takes over

The Eagles finally made the switch on Dec. 6, benching Carson Wentz in favor of rookie Jalen Hurts in a loss to the Green Bay Packers. But really, this was a controversy of the Eagles’ own making.

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6. Premature end

After three days of delaying games and revising plans, the Delaware Interscholastic Athletic Association canceled the remainder of its basketball state tournaments on March 12. The boys and girls semifinalists received Final Four trophies, and the Unified finalists were named co-champions. A day later, Gov. John Carney ordered schools closed statewide. Ultimately, the entire Delaware high school spring sports season was wiped out.

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Mount Pleasant's Mekhi Williams uses the HANC face covering co-developed by Mount Pleasant defensive coordinator Matt Greenburg (rear), one of many coronavirus safety protocols that were required to play high school football in Delaware this fall.

7. Fall sports are back!

On Sept. 1, Gov. John Carney updated guidance for the safe play of youth sports. For the first time since the pandemic began, the Department of Public Health announced that high-risk sports such as football and wrestling could be played if all participants wore face coverings at all times. The guidance led to the Delaware Interscholastic Athletic Association reversing course and approving fall sports at its Sept. 10 meeting, a decision confirmed by the Delaware Department of Education on Sept. 17.

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8. Hens coming to Dover

On Nov. 24, Delaware State announced that DSU and Delaware would play football in Dover for the first time at the Hornets’ Alumni Stadium on April 10 after nine previous games at UD.

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9. Big-money Hens

A June 25 story revealed the University of Delaware had become one of the biggest spenders on athletics at the NCAA Division I Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) level since President Dennis Assanis and Athletic Director Chrissi Rawak arrived in 2016, even outspending many Football Bowl Subdivision schools. Most of that money came directly from the university.

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Brandi Lindsey, mother of Kyree Lindsey, admires her son's state championship ring after it was delivered by the Howard football coaching staff.

10. Special delivery

Kyree Lindsey, two of his brothers and a cousin drowned in the Chesapeake & Delaware Canal on Oct. 6, 2019, following a tragic accident. Eight months later, in an emotional ceremony on their front doorstep, Howard’s football coaches presented the 2019 DIAA Division II championship ring and sweatshirts that Kyree earned to his parents, Brandi and Willis Lindsey Sr.

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11. Play ball!

On June 12, some good news finally came to the Delaware sports scene with the state’s approval of the resumption of competition in several youth sports. The key requirements for all sports were the same for all facets of daily life during the pandemic: Social distancing, wearing of face masks, frequent hand sanitizing and frequent disinfecting of high-touch surfaces, especially the balls used in several sports.

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12. That Hurts

It seemed like the last thing the Eagles needed was a quarterback in Round 2 of the NFL draft. Yet the Eagles drafted Jalen Hurts on April 24, starting a chain of events that led to the benching of Carson Wentz before the end of the season.

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13. Phillies finally begin

Play ball! The Phillies began their 60-game season on July 24, shortened by 102 games due to the coronavirus, with a loss to the Miami Marlins in front of zero fans at Citizens Bank Park.

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14. Local horse racing scandal

A May 5 story details how a horse broke down at a 2019 Delaware Park race and had to be euthanized after being allowed to race despite controversial therapy provided by a veterinarian who later turned up dead.

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Former Eagles coach Andy Reid finally won his first Super Bowl with the Kansas City Chiefs, with a lot of help from two former Delaware Blue Hens.

15. Reid reigns with Hens’ help

Andy Reid finally won his first Super Bowl on Jan. 29, but he wouldn’t have gotten there  without help from two former University of Delaware stars in Chiefs GM Brett Veach and assistant coach Joe Bleymaier.

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16. Roach’s legacy

Surviving members of the family of Lee Roach, a University of Delaware football player who died of the Spanish flu in 1918, recounted how the Georgetown, Delaware, native inspired generations of relatives to play football themselves at Georgetown and Sussex Central high schools.

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17. Crisis averted

On Oct. 16, Blue Hen Flight A members Hodgson and St. Georges agreed to play Salesianum in football, bringing the Sals to a full schedule of seven games and ending the controversy that had Delaware high school sports buzzing for a week.

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Rocco Abessinio speaks at the opening of the Wilmington stadium bearing his name, across the street from Salesianum School.

18. Grand opening

On Nov. 13, Abessinio Stadium opened, two years after 97-year-old Baynard Stadium was razed on the same site across the street from Salesianum School in Wilmington. The new stadium, primarily funded by a $16 million donation from Sallies alum Rocco Abessinio, is the new home field for Salesianum athletics, along with other football teams and a variety of events in several sports.

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19. Legendary coach dies

Ron Ludington, an Olympic pairs skater who made Delaware a mecca for figure skating prodigies like Johnny Weir, Kimmie Meissner and Peter and Kitty Carruthers, died May 16 at the age of 85.

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20. Monster weekend

Having canceled its spring race weekend, Dover International Speedway had only the roar of car engines on Aug. 22 as it was opened but without fans for the NASCAR Xfinity Series Drydene 200 and NASCAR Cup Series Drydene 311 — Denny Hamlin earning his first checkered flag at the Monster Mile — in day one of a doubleheader that was repeated the next day.

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Sussex Central players hoist the trophy after defeating Middletown for the DIAA Division I football title.

21. Fall sports finishes

On Dec. 19, Sussex Central (Division I) and Howard (Division II) win the DIAA football championship games, capping a fall high school sports season marked by limited spectators, required face coverings in all sports and multiple games canceled due to coronavirus issues.

Read the Sussex Central story

Read the Howard story

22. Another sports delay

On Dec. 3, a stay-at-home advisory announced by Gov. John Carney and the Delaware Division of Public Health pushed back the start of winter high school sports competitions until at least Jan. 11.

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23. Long way to go

While the nation tried to rectify its rocky relationship with racial injustice in the wake of George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis, this June 1 column provided a sad reminder that the mission remains unmet long after the illuminating medal-stand protest by Tommie Smith and John Carlos at the 1968 Summer Olympics and Colin Kaepernick's more recent peaceful protests of police brutality.

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24. Sad sign of the times

Delaware Sports Hall of Famer Val Whiting, the former basketball standout, detailed how her use of the social-media app TikTok as a coaching tool led to race- and gender-motivated online bullying, hoping it would serve as a warning to others.

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Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz (left) and tight end Zach Ertz spoke out about racial injustices shortly after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

25. Wentz, Ertz speak out

On May 28, shortly after the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police, Eagles QB Carson Wentz and tight end Zach Ertz spoke out about the racial injustices plaguing the nation. It was the first time both had taken a stand against racial injustices, something that led many other white stars to follow suit.

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26. Swift reaction

On July 7, Eagles wide receiver DeSean Jackson shared social media posts glorifying Adolf Hitler and Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, and the fallout was swift as Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie and GM Howie Roseman, both Jewish, condemned the posts and quickly ordered Jackson to apologize and undergo educational programs about the Holocaust in order to remain on the team.

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27. Delawareans key for Union

The Philadelphia Union, with two players from Delaware in key roles – starting center back Mark McKenzie and reserve midfielder Anthony Fontana, defeat the New England Revolution 2-0 on Nov. 8 at Subaru Park to win the coveted Supporters’ Shield as the side with the best regular-season record in Major League Soccer.

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28. Oops, sorry about that

On Oct. 15, as the Delaware Interscholastic Athletic Association was seeking what should have been routine approval of some regulation amendments by the State Board of Education, BOE members failed to pass the amendments by a wide enough margin. The vote essentially killed Delaware’s fall high school sports season for about 20 minutes, before BOE members found a way to pass a new motion and allow DIAA to continue to conduct sports without interruption.

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29. 76ers stop

A typical regular-season game became so much more when the NBA announced that it was shutting down because of the coronavirus just as the Sixers were polishing off their March 11 win over the Detroit Pistons. Just like that, practically every sport followed suit, a foreboding of the dire circumstances to come.

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St. Andrew's boys basketball coach Terrell Myers instructs his team during their surprising run in the DIAA Tournament.

30. Saints keep marching

St. Andrew’s, the 18th seed in the 24-team DIAA Boys Basketball Tournament field, never trailed in ending No. 2 seeded-William Penn’s season with a 54-42 upset. The Saints’ Cinderella run would continue all the way to the semifinals, only to be ended by the coronavirus.

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31. Goodbye, big lead

The long-awaited NFL season started on Sept. 13, and the Eagles immediately blew a 17-0 lead and lost to the Washington Football Team. In a foreshadowing of what would happen this season, Carson Wentz said after the game: “I gotta be better.” He wasn't.

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32. Little League champs

The Little League season got a belated start, not every organization had teams and there was no regional or World Series competition. That only made Middletown-Odessa-Townsend and Canal Little Leaguers appreciate the opportunity more when they met for the state Majors (11- and -12-year-old) title at Duke Field in Middletown on Aug. 26. Canal forced a deciding game with a thrilling 7-6 win and then MOT did the same, rallying for a 7-6 victory in the rematch.

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Kieran Tuntivate (right) runs with pacer Iddriss Iddriss during his attempt to break the four-minute mile barrier at St. Mark's High School.

33. A mile in his shoes

On Aug. 22, former Charter of Wilmington runner Kieran Tuntivate fell a couple of clicks short in his quest to be the first to break four minutes in the mile run on Delaware soil. But with no live sports options for months, a crowd of about 200 people at St. Mark’s High School – including the runner – went away satisfied.

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34. McCown’s big chance

Josh McCown, the Eagles’ 40-year-old backup quarterback, made his NFL playoff debut in his 18th season after Carson Wentz suffered a concussion in the first quarter against the Seahawks on Jan. 5. McCown didn’t get the win, but he did win the admiration of his teammates after his heartfelt reaction to finally getting a playoff chance.

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35. Streak snapper

On March 8, Delaware beat Charleston 79-67 in the Colonial Athletic Association Men’s Basketball Tournament quarterfinals in Washington. Charleston had won nine straight over Delaware. The Hens lost to Hofstra the next night, but their 22-11 final record was UD’s best in six seasons.

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Eagles wide receiver Travis Fulgham (13) makes a huge touchdown catch in a surprising win over the San Francisco 49ers.

36. Unlikely heroes

Travis Fulgham and Alex Singleton were afterthoughts for the Eagles this season. Yet both scored touchdowns eight seconds apart late in the fourth quarter on Oct. 8 to lead the Eagles to their first win of the season.

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37. Three-man game

A third-quarter fight on Jan. 23 that cleared the benches, ensuing ejections and subsequent foul outs led to the Sussex Tech and Cape Henlopen boys basketball teams finishing a game with only three players on the court. The Ravens, who had two players at the end, rallied to win 63-62.

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38. Hornets seek improvement

Delaware State University officials described their strategy to provide athletes with a better path to academic success after the men’s basketball team received NCAA Academic Progress Report penalties. With so many other Historically Black Colleges and Universities also cited for violations, national experts said the APR is an unfair measure of HBCU student-athletes.

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In addition to all of the other problems he has faced this season, Eagles coach Doug Pederson was forced to quarantine at home for 10 days after testing positive for COVID-19 in August.

39. Pederson quarantines

On Aug. 2, Eagles coach Doug Pederson announced that he tested positive for COVID-19, and that he would have to quarantine at home for the next 10 days.

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40. Hofstra curse ends

With a national CBS Sports Network audience looking on Jan. 23, Kevin Anderson scored in the final second as Delaware nipped Hofstra 73-71, the Hens’ first men’s basketball win in Hempstead, New York, in six years. Justyn Mutts played a key role with 30 points.

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