From March Madness To Neighborhood Parks, Sports Stoppage Is Impacting Us All

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When the world of sports came to a grinding halt not long ago, I initially felt very sad for admittedly selfish reasons. I mean, watching college basketball in the spring is a big part of my life. There are the conference tournaments, followed immediately by March Madness. It’s as much a part of my calendar as the daffodils and the cherry blossoms.

And this year was going to be different. For the first time, I was going to be enjoying it alongside my eight-year-old son. The one who over the last six months has discovered and become obsessed by watching sports. Never before have I witnessed someone learn so much in such a short amount of time. Mostly he’s into statistics—a good thing for a sports fan—but he’s already experienced heartbreak. When the Seahawks couldn’t cross the goal line against their hated rivals, the 49ers, he cried inconsolably and wouldn’t let his mother put him to bed. I think the expression on her face toward me was something along the lines of: What kind of monster have you created?

He was more than ready to embrace college basketball’s postseason right by my side. I had already made plans for him to join the bracket pool I’ve been a part of for a decade, the irreverent one made up mostly of Tar Heels. The pool that only has one rule: If you pick “Dook” to win, you are immediately eliminated from being able to win the pool. (Hint: they’re not kidding).

It’s hard to believe it was only two weeks ago that the NBA ended in dramatic fashion, with a medical official rushing to midcourt to stop the Utah Jazz, Oklahoma City Thunder game just before tipoff because one of the players tested positive for Covid-19.

That was the same day that the college basketball tournaments began. By the next morning, they, too, were cancelled.

But once I let go of my own reasons for disappointment, I began to realize just how unfortunate it was for the athletes themselves—especially the college players.

Just think about what could have been for the Oregon Ducks women’s basketball team. They were predicted to do great things during this ill-fated postseason. They might have gone all the way, but we shall never know.

Or, look at Cassius Winston and Michigan State. Talk about potential taken too soon.

There are a thousand other examples that are just as heartbreaking. Seasons and possibly careers washed away in less time than it takes to sink a swish from half court.

Watching sports on television is obviously now secondary to a million other more pressing things. Most notably, there’s the survival of the human race to think about.

But somewhere in between sports and the human race, there’s also the disappointment over the cancellation of all of my kids’ own sports activities.

Similar to my middle son’s embrace of watching sports, he and his older brother have relatively recently embraced playing them.

It almost doesn’t matter what sport it is. If it’s on a team, with other kids and a coach, they want to play it. And we’ve been fortunate enough to be able to indulge them every step of the way.

Here are some recent sports experiences that my elementary-age children have had, which I as a sports-loving parent have absolutely cherished.

Just before this pandemic took over our land, my fourth grader completed his first season of basketball. Words almost can’t describe the joy I felt seeing him out there. He’s a kid who loves to be on a team, and he loves having a coach. Those are great qualities to have that will hopefully serve him well throughout life. And sure, he’s got lots to learn about the sport, but those things are secondary to his enjoyment of playing it. Before you can be good at a sport, you have to love it. If he never becomes “good”, but always loves it, then I can ask for nothing more as a parent.

Right after basketball season ended, his first volleyball season got underway. If you’ve never seen fourth graders play volleyball, I want you to picture them perfectly positioned at equal distances apart (good social distancing practice, no?). Now picture their feet encased in cement. When the ball flies over the net, they just stand there. If the ball doesn’t land within reach for them to hit it back over, it hits the floor. Again, do I or any of them care? Not one whit. If you could see the looks on their faces, or the way they love to slide on their kneepads—when they’re not in a game—then you know that technique is secondary to their own enjoyment of the game.

And then there was flag football. We made it as far as the pre-season skills camp. That was on March 1st, 2020, though it feels like about five years ago. You’d never believe it, but there were hundreds of parents and kids gathered together on a football field, with a handful of fired up coaches, running the kids through their first ever football drills. People were even shaking hands, high-fiving, and standing close enough for germs to be shared. Amazing, I know.

Needless to say, all of that has now been cancelled. Along with swim lessons, piano lessons, and just about everything else in our world.

So where has that left us?

Well, for the first few days, kids were still gathering in the neighborhood. At the park. On the playground. In pick-up soccer games and games of P.I.G. on the basketball court.

As social distancing guidelines have become more and more stringent, all of that has, of course, also gone away. I drove by the park the other day on my way to go grocery shopping, my hands on the steering wheel clad in plastic gloves. Not only is there caution tape around all of the play equipment, crime scene style, but the city pulled the basketball hoop completely out of its cement footing. It lay there to the side, sadly, like an uprooted tree after a bad storm.

And so now we just have each other. We’ve rediscovered the twenty-year-old basketball hoop that came with our house, out back by the alley. The backboard is grey and chipping, the net somehow still attached after who knows how many years of Seattle rain.

But I don’t know if I’ve ever appreciated a game of P.I.G. as much as I do right now, quarantined with my boys. Sometimes we play during what locals refer to as “liquid sunshine.” We often have to chase the ball into the alley when it flies over the old fence behind the backboard. I know my kids miss their teams, and their friends, but I also sense that they are relishing this time we are spending together. If they don’t realize it now, I like to think they will in a few years.

And while I’m still a little sad about not being able to watch sports, and I feel for the players who can’t play them right now, I like to think that our world will start back up again soon. I also like to think that there are a few positive memories I will have from this time. And many of them will involve that old rusty hoop out by the alley.

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About Author

Paul Redman is a writer and chef in Seattle who grew up in the Midwest. His work has appeared in print and online, including San Francisco magazine, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, and Contrary. He eats too many chicken wings and cracks way too many dad jokes and food puns. Follow him on Twitter @predman.

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