With the (partial) fall sports season beginning in earnest this past week, I was pleasantly in smiles attending the Pecatonica-Monticello volleyball match.
No one saw my smiles, however. My Wisconsin Badgers face mask covered that part of my face — which also included a new facial hair style for the first time in more than five years.
I won’t complain about wearing a face mask. I see it as a silly debate. The heat from my breath into the mask is still no worse than the always unusually warm gymnasiums of high school sports. I was just happy to be back on the end lines, camera and notebook in tow for the first time in six months — which had seemed more like a year.
To be honest, I was a little surprised that sports would be happening now. I’m cautiously optimistic about the health and safety of players, coaches and fans, but I am definitely not ignorantly blind to the actual dangers that this virus carries.
I started following the information and rise of COVID-19 back in late January, and by Valentine’s Day knew this virus would likely affect America in a way that Zika, Ebola, SARS, Swine Flu and Bird Flu never could. Less than a month later it was here en masse, and sports across the globe were shut down.
The “shutdown” of Wisconsin and America was weird in general, let alone disappointing, sad, depressing and humorous all at once. Social media battles were taking place that didn’t need to take place, and the one thing that Americans usually turn their attention to when life gets weird — sports — were gone. Professional level, college, high school — everything was on pause for months.
As the world of competitive athletics slowly returned in the summer, watching games on TV felt as if everything was getting back to normal. Following the WIAA, NCAA, Big Ten and other organizations make their plans was maddening at times, but in this new chaotic normal, was completely understandable.
I’ve always been of the opinion that while I love competitive sports and understand all the positive it does for individual athletes and spectators as a whole, in the end it is a hobby that is not required in life. Yet everyone seemed to want to throw caution to the wind and get back at it, and here we are.
Again, I love sports, and I very much love covering sporting events for a living. So if we are going to do this, then let’s do it intelligently and cautiously.
My first assignment of the fall was the Pecatonica-Monticello volleyball match, as I said. I had some cool plans — like taking video of the national anthem and first serve of the season, things that would make this return to “normal” seem a little bit more important than usual. I wanted to get good photos of the action, of the expressions, and take in a changed atmosphere that was trying to not seem changed at all.
I had butterflies in my stomach as I left the office and headed to the game. I wanted it to feel like riding a bike — I’ve attended approximately 1,000 high school sporting events as a reporter — and yet I no more than exited my car in the parking lot and realized I’d forgotten my notebook. Nicely done, veteran prep sports reporter.
Seeing everyone in a mask was definitely different, too — players, coaches, officials, fans. But this is what we have to do to make sure athletic events don’t become cesspools to easily spread the virus.
Seeing the ball girl and ball boy having to sanitize the ball after each point was interesting, though it didn’t feel like it slowed the game down that much. It helped to have about eight spare balls on hand.
After the game teams and fans were expected to depart quickly and orderly — something not convenient for a sports reporter. After getting through my interviews and getting back to my car with lights in the gym dimmed, I realized I had forgotten my tripod. “That’s two, now, Adam. Two strikes.”
Luckily, I was done for the night. And luckily, I get a second chance Thursday to redeem my forgetfulness.
This morning I raise my coffee mug in celebration of a return to “normal,” if there can be such a thing. I feel like we’ve got another 6-12 months more of weirdness before getting back to anything resembling what we had before. But I’ll take this partial win. And next week, football begins — fingers crossed.
— Adam Krebs is a reporter for the Times and can be reached at email@example.com.