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Bayside winter sports season canceled

EASTON — Easton High’s girls’ basketball team never got the chance to finish what it started last season — potentially win the program’s first state title in 26 years.

The Warriors won’t get the opportunity to even start this season. Neither will anyone else in the Bayside Conference this winter.

With the conference’s 18 schools still locked in virtual learning mode because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the Bayside announced Monday night it was officially canceling the 2020-21 winter sports season, which includes boys’ and girls’ basketball, wrestling, swimming, indoor track and field and ice hockey.

“For lack of being too dramatic, as a parent, as an athletic director, and as a school personnel, it’s kind of heartbreaking,” said Bayside President and Kent Island High Athletic Director Dan Harding, whose son, a sophomore, is on the school’s swim team. “Obviously I’m getting messages from seniors who weren’t able to participate for their (last) high school (season). The hope is many athletes play multiple seasons, so if we can get a fall and a spring in, great. But (for) those that winter was their (only) season, it’s gone.”

Easton’s girls’ basketball team was preparing to board its bus for the state semifinals last year when it was told the final four was being postponed. Eventually the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association canceled the girls’ and boys’ semifinals and finals across all four of the state’s classifications, with no state champions crowned.

After the 2020 spring sports season was canceled April 28, and with COVID-19 not abating enough this past fall, the MPSSAA decided to restructure its athletic calendar for the 2020-21 school year in hopes of getting in all three sports seasons. Though the seasons would be shorter, the hope was to start with winter sports, followed by the fall and spring seasons.

The first day of practice for the winter sports season was scheduled for Dec. 7, 2020, with the first date of competition slated for Jan. 4, 2021.

MPSSAA regulations require 20 days of practice before the start of the season, and with COVID-19 metrics not declining after the holidays, time was running out on a season that was scheduled to conclude Feb. 13.

“In Queen Anne’s County, the board of education voted to bring back students in hybrid learning on Jan. 28,” Harding said. “If that’s the first time we could re-engage athletes, by the time you give them 20 days of required practice per the MPSSAA you’re already past the Feb. 13 start date. And fall is going to start on Feb. 13, which is what we’re hoping. So winter had to be canceled.”

With the winter window closing, Harding said conference athletic supervisors proposed the idea of canceling the season, then forwarded it to school superintendents in the Bayside’s respective counties.

“Once they approved it we made the announcement,” Harding said of the superintendents.

“Obviously life’s bigger than that,” Harding said in reference to a virus that has claimed 377,616 lives nationally, according to Johns Hopkins University Medicine Coronavirus Research Center website. “But we were trying like hell to get something done. From the supervisors to the athletic directors to the principals to the superintendents, the decision didn’t come lightly. We looked at every option until we feel we’ve run out of time.”

Harding added the eight individual counties within the Bayside (Caroline, Dorchester, Kent, Queen Anne’s, Talbot, Somerset, Wicomico, Worcester), “could still do something if their metrics are better, but it doesn’t seem like most are able to.”

Now the focus shifts to a potential fall season scheduled to begin practice Feb. 13 and end competition on April 17 — which is the first day of spring practice.

“You could very easily be playing your last football game on the first day of boys’ lacrosse practice for example,” Harding said.

“At least within Queen Anne’s County, and I would say largely in the Bayside, there is a lot of talk about being able to start fall on the 13th of February,” Harding said of the football, field hockey, golf, volleyball and boys’ and girls’ soccer and cross country seasons. “You have sports outside. Volleyball can be inside with masks if they need to be. I feel if we get fall going, spring’s a guarantee. Because once we get up and running, I don’t think we’ll stop it, especially with the vaccine; hopefully with the vaccine.”

Cherokee Lady is up on the back of a matching yellow truck. Through the years the slingshot has been known as Bunny One, Bantam, Bunny Two, Mr. B, and finally Cherokee Lady.

Another Talbot COVID death; New U.K. strain in Maryland

EASTON — The Talbot County Health Department reported another resident died on Monday from COVID-19, increasing the county’s pandemic death toll to 14.

Five Talbot residents have died from coronavirus illness in less than two weeks, marking a significant uptick in local deaths compared to the nine deaths the county saw from March to September.

Acting County Health Officer Dr. Maria Maguire said at least three of the five residents who died since Dec. 30 were nursing home residents. Maguire did not disclose any information about the other two individuals.

“We are seeing some of our deaths occurring in (nursing home and assisted living) facilities, not all, but a high proportion,” Maguire said in response to a question about the most recent resident deaths. “We’re fortunate to not have many deaths per capita in our county, so that is something we’ve been lucky, although we have had since September at least a few more deaths.”

The acting health officer attributed the rise in infections, illness and death locally to community transmission. She said the virus’s spread has “percolated to some high-risk venues, including nursing homes and assisted living facilities.”

Maguire said Talbot County has averaged 31 new cases a day since the end of December. She called the case rate “a different world for us” when compared to the county’s daily average of three to five cases in the fall.

“The reason for this (rise) we think, from what we’re seeing in our data, is the social gatherings since very early November, travel, and perhaps a little bit of maybe complacency with following the protocols,” Maguire said. “We’ve been following them so long, but sometimes it’s that one time you don’t that puts you at risk.”

The rising death and hospitalization rates in the county come in the midst of Gov. Larry Hogan’s announcement Tuesday that a more contagious coronavirus variant, known as B-117, has been identified in two individuals in Anne Arundel County.

The new COVID strain was first identified in the United Kingdom.

Of the new strain’s emergence in Maryland, the county health department said, “While this is news we were hoping to avoid for Maryland, it is important to note that there is no indication at this time indicating that the vaccines being distributed are less effective against this strain.”

Both of the individuals who contracted the new virus strain are younger than 65 years old and live in the same household, Hogan said. One of the two people had recently traveled to the U.K., where they are suspected to have gotten the virus.

“We encourage Marylanders to practice caution to limit the additional risk of transmission associated with this strain,” Hogan said. “It is critically important that we all continue to follow standard public health and safety measures, including mask wearing, regular hand washing, and social distancing.”

As of Tuesday, Talbot is reporting 1,622 coronavirus cases to date. Nineteen residents tested positive for the virus in the 24 hours prior to Tuesday.

Four people were hospitalized with COVID-19 on Monday and 227 residents are actively infected with the virus.

Donors give nearly $106K to Brighter Christmas Fund

Generous donors opened their hearts and wallets to give nearly $106,000 to The Star Democrat‘s Brighter Christmas Fund. Your donations helped over 1,600 children and nearly 700 families during the 2020 holiday season.

We are pleased to continue acknowledging all those who have generously donated to the Fund in 2020, as we are still receiving donations through the mail.

From Nov. 24 through Dec. 31, 2020, The Star Democrat and its sister newspapers published stories each day about families in Talbot, Caroline, Dorchester, Queen Anne’s and Kent counties who struggled to provide a Christmas for their children. These stories were the only way The Star Democrat solicited donations for the Brighter Christmas Fund.

Because of your generosity, parents and caregivers were able to provide gifts for their children. The Star Democrat donated 100% of the Fund’s administrative and operating costs.

The Brighter Christmas Fund is a 501(c)(3) charity, and tax-deductible donations, which also help other families in need on the Mid-Shore, may be sent to The Brighter Christmas Fund, c/o The Star Democrat, P.O. Box 600, Easton, MD 21601. Donations also may be made online via credit card or Paypal at www.brighterchristmasfund.org. Click the “Donate” button. For more information about the Fund, call 410-200-1884 or email bcf@chespub.com.

The total to date is $105,895.75.

Those sharing the spirit of giving with others this holiday include:

In honor of Cherie Spector

David and Ronya Driscoll

J. Lee and Phyllis Bailey


Frank and Elizabeth Lawlor

In honor of Mikayla Gibson

In memory of Dr. Nick Flagler

Christopher and Catherine Levey

In memory of Harold Ringgold

National Catholic Community Foundation — The Cole Sisters’ Charitable Gift Fund

Lana Harding

Carol Thompson

Longtime Oxford commissioner, community leader, dies at 81

OXFORD — Gordon Graves, a former town commissioner and president of the Oxford Museum who was instrumental in paying off the museum’s mortgage debt, establishing a local dog park and the Oxford Conservation Park, as well as restoring the historic Oxford Mews building, died on Christmas Day, Dec. 25. He was 81.

Graves died from Lymphoma, a rare cancer in the lymphatic system that hosts the lymph nodes and spleen. His family announced his death in an obituary in The Star Democrat, saying Graves peacefully slipped the surly bonds of earth with his beloved Phyllis at his side — in death as in life.”

“Raise a glass and toast a witty ... guy who was always comfortable in his own skin, was a great listener, gave sage advice but never insisted you follow it, and was the first to laugh at himself,” the obituary said. “He will be sorely missed but will live on in our hearts.”

Graves was not an Eastern Shore native, but when he moved to Oxford in 2002 after his retirement, he immediately fell in love with and embraced the community, quickly becoming an icon.

He’d serve as an elected official for nearly a decade and as a longtime Oxford Community Center volunteer and helping hand. Graves was always there for others in need.

His influence was twofold: a welcoming friend to share a laugh or a drink with at community events, where he was often found as the designated bartender, and a beloved and well-respected political leader.

As a town official, he led with impassioned vigor, resilience and careful thought on every project he put his name on. Graves pushed Oxford through some of its most challenging and difficult times, paving the way for the town’s defining changes in the 2010’s.

When Graves helped pay off the Oxford Museum’s mortgage, he became an instant hero, relieving the organization from financial strain. In addition to assisting the town establish two parks and revitalize the historic Mews building downtown, he was a focal point in upgrading the Oxford’s wastewater treatment plant.

His contributions are vast, said Ray Stevens, the manager of the Benson & Mangold real estate office in Oxford. He wrote an email to residents shortly after the former commissioner’s death, noting that Grave’s work permeates throughout the town.

”When you pass the clock on the corner of the Museum property, think of Gordon; that is another reminder of what Gordon contributed. He was proud of that clock and is responsible for the money raised and the installation,” Stevens wrote. “When you pass the Blue Star Memorial in the Town Park, please give a nod to Gordon again.”

Gordon Graves was born in 1939 in Canton, Ohio, a state where he spent his youth.

His interests as a young man often involved hands-on activities. He was especially fond of tinkering with old electronics or other small crafts, and later in life he would become a clocksmith, train-set builder and gunsmith.

“He liked taking things apart and putting them back together,” said his longtime partner of 30 years, Phyllis Rambo. “He did a lot of marine thermometers and ship clocks. Eventually he migrated to regular antique clocks. He would buy, sell and do work for people.”

He attended Baldwin Wallace University in Berea, Ohio, and earned a bachelor’s degree in liberal arts. He landed a job on the East Coast, at Rider University in New Jersey, in 1966. He was an administrative head for the audio, visual and television services department there.

While he was in a previous marriage and had two children with his first wife, Graves met Rambo, the love of his life, at Rider University, where she worked as the director of human resources.

”We were friends for about 12 years before we got together,” said Rambo, saying they never got married but had a passionate romance. “I miss having him here to talk to and share things with.”

The couple moved to Baltimore in 1993, when Graves retired early. At the end of the decade, they were ready to leave again, Rambo said.

”We were ready to leave Baltimore and Gordon knew I liked living by the water. I was still traveling, and when I came home, I told him, ‘I found a town you would like,’” she said. “He came down to visit our friend here, and two weeks later we moved in. The small town (had a) sense of community, and it was surrounded by the water.”

When the couple found a place in Oxford in 2002, they decided to get involved with the community. Both volunteered at a local Habitat for Humanity chapter, and, soon enough, Graves had started picking up more volunteer work at the Oxford Community Center, which would become a a life commitment.

Graves bartended at events, assisted with fundraisers, donated money and even emceed on stage at a September 26, 2020 event, for the Oxford Business Association — at 81 years old and still battling cancer.

“He was up on the stage, egging people to increase their bids,” said Liza Ledford, the executive director of the Oxford Community Center. “He was gregarious and got people stirred up to support.”

Ledford said he frequently joined their coffee clubs with a smile, and was indispensable in the community.

“He always had a smirk and a smile. Everyone always wanted to know what he was thinking to have that smirk on his face,” she said. “People respected his opinions so much. Many people from all walks of life called him for his opinion —he was so accessible and honest — and he listened to what your questions and needs were.”

Graves joined the Oxford Museum and served as its president for two years, from 2009 to 2011. He donated a train set to the museum and a civil war gun, but he was most known for leading them toward financial stability.

”He came at a time in the Museum’s history when we needed him the most,” wrote Julie Wells, the current president at the Oxford Museum, in a memorial post published on the organization’s website. “We had just purchased the building we are currently in, and Gordon feared for our financial future. He made it his mission as president to pay off the mortgage.”

Graves had never been president of anything before, but those working at the museum at the time said they never would have guessed it.

Graves’ strong leadership was noticeable, as he paid off the museum’s debt in just three years, by 2014. He did so through private donations and fundraisers, including one of the largest ones the organization has ever had, an event that partnered with the Oxford Inn.

“Gordon’s successful drive to pay off the mortgage has to go down as one of the top three events in the museum’s history — right up there with the museum’s founding in 1964 and buying the building,” said Lee Nollmeyer, a curator, in the blog post.

As a town commissioner for nine years and three months, Graves spearheaded some of the most important developments in town.

When he ran for office in 2011, he promised to bring stability to the town, according to a June Star Democrat interview.

”The biggest issues facing the town are the timeliness of the decision-making process and the sometimes contentious rhetoric between citizens and town officials,” he said at the time. “As a nine-year resident, active in the community, I feel I have a sense of what Oxford is, and could make a positive contribution if elected.”

After winning election in a landslide, he quickly got to work. That year, he helped install the Oxford town clock in front of the Oxford Museum. It was an antique timepiece with an illuminated dial for a commissioner who had passed away.

Previous efforts had failed and fizzled out in 2006, until Graves came along.

”It’s a project that’s overdue and I felt it should be moved along,” he said simply.

The clock has since become a classical little monument in town.

Graves was the Oxford Town Commission’s president in 2013 when they approved the Oxford Dog Park, which now attracts residents all over Talbot County. Even so, Graves was an avid cat lover, with a particular fondness for the family cat, Cleo.

”I have no dog in this fight, I’m a cat owner,” he said proudly that year in The Star Democrat.

In 2016, Graves assisted in establishing Oxford Conservation Park. While many were skeptical of it at first, the park was designed with the environment in mind and has since attracted residents across the Eastern Shore to it, contributing to the natural area around the Chesapeake Bay.

A recent decision he made was to upgrade the town’s wastewater treatment plant, an $11 million dollar operation.

Graves was successful in securing 80% of the needed money from grants, pushing the small town of Oxford to adopt Enhanced Nutrient Removal (ENR), or the most modern technology available. Upgrading wastewater treatment plants has left towns in deep debt before, including in neighboring Trappe.

The Oxford Mews building restoration was another contentious battle. It was a historic building that had fallen into deep disrepair, and people in town wanted to restore it, but it would be costly.

Graves and town clerk Cheryl Lewis won a $300,000 grant for the project and successfully restored it by 2019. A future goal for Oxford Mews is to reshape the building into a mixed-use facility owned by a private company.

Graves retired from the commission in October, but he has publicly mentioned what his worries were for Oxford in the near future, specifically calling out climate change and rising sea levels as a threat for the town.

This year, Oxford enrolled in a flood-prevention program from the Federal Emergency Management Agency that lowers flood insurance rates and encourages better flood protection for homes.

Rambo, his spouse, said she, and many in town, will deeply miss his company. But his legacy will always beat at the heart of Oxford.

”He was a pretty simple guy who knew who he was and was happy with what he had,” she said. “He was very respected. I don’t think he ever realized the impact he had on the people.”

Graves is survived by his partner of 30 years, Phyllis Rambo; daughters Traci Paterson (Gary Beasley) and Deborah Graves; stepchildren Monique Rambo (Craig Saunders) and Christopher Rambo (Jennifer); eight grandchildren; many other family and friends; and his faithful companion, Cleo the cat, who sorely misses his warm lap.