By Steve Williams

Local high school teams and student-athletes were ready and eager to help during the holidays this year like they normally do, but with the pandemic, this hasn’t been a normal year.

Therefore, their community service wasn’t needed as some annual holiday events were canceled or they were not allowed to assist for health reasons.

One of the first signs of change in the holidays this year was when the East Tennessee Children’s Hospital announced in the summer the cancellation of the Fantasy of Trees. That popular event is held yearly at the Knoxville Civic Center during the Thanksgiving weekend, with many high school cheerleaders painting kids’ faces and helping out.

In its announcement, ETCH officials wrote that the decision was reached after “much careful consideration … due to ongoing concerns over the continued increase in COVID-19 cases in our community.”

As an alternate fundraiser this year, ETCH benefited from the Walmart and The Home Depot Raffle Tree.

Halls High’s cheer squad, meanwhile, did have the opportunity to make the holidays brighter for two kids in its community.

“We weren’t able to go out and do service because of Knox County restrictions,” said Halls cheer coach Cheri Duncan. “We adopted two Halls kids and provided clothes, shoes and toys for them through our program that we do at school.”

Central High’s Nick Craney said he wished his football team could have again helped in the community, “but with COVID, we have been advised to stay away from any group settings. In past years we have done several things, but we couldn’t do it this year.”

Meshon Crateau’s Hardin Valley Academy dance team for years had taught a dance routine to youngsters at HVA’s feeder schools to promote community relations and they would dress in holiday attire and perform during halftime of a high school basketball game.

Crateau is now an assistant principal at Bearden High, but “I can tell you that the Hawkettes’ dance team did not do any community service due to COVID. These girls were heartbroken.

“Kaylee Pulvirenti is the coach. She is amazing to work with,” added Meshon

“I miss it (seeing the Jr. Hawkettes perform) like crazy!”

Jeremy Parrott, Bearden boys basketball coach, said: “The projects we have been a part of in the past have either been canceled or restructured to not involve volunteers as much, due to COVID-19.”

Central cheer coach Jackie Raley’s squad tried everything it could to help in the holidays.

“Unfortunately we weren’t able to do anything we usually do during the holiday season,” said Raley.

“We tried to at least bundle up with our masks and gloves and rings bells at Kroger because the Salvation Army always depends on us … but we were told we couldn’t. It’s very sad.”