The old saying “expect the unexpected” is ringing truer than ever as we attempt to navigate the world of high school sports during COVID-19.
I’m furiously knocking on wood when I say that COVID hasn’t had much of an impact on the games so far this season, but I’ve still encountered some unusual scenarios.
Twice in the past week I’ve gone to Bainbridge Memorial Stadium, once for soccer and once for football. And each time Winslow and locales nearby over Puget Sound have found themselves in a convergence zone. Last Tuesday’s games against Central Kitsap featured heavy hail storms that left the turf field looking like it had several inches of snow.
Then with 15 minutes to go in the varsity game, the lights went out, apparently because of a preset timer. The match’s outcome was in little doubt, and both teams opted to simply end the game.
It also briefly hailed during Bainbridge football team’s victory over Olympic, but the surprising atmospheric phenomenon came as the clock wound down — a flash of lightning, but without an actual bolt or subsequent thunder, lit up the eastern sky.
Add to that the bone-chilling evening temperatures and cold breezes from the waters surrounding the Kitsap Peninsula, and we have a better understanding of the reason we play indoor sports in February.
Saturday afternoon’s football game between North Kitsap and Sequim also gave us several interesting images. With no fans allowed, the bleachers were filled with cardboard cutouts. It was a far cry from the normally noisy student section. North Kitsap stadium was deadly silent each time the call of “thirrrrrrd down” thundered over the public address system.
There were however, a few of the North Kitsap faithful nearby to cheer. The adjacent north-south running Mesford Street was lined with cars belonging to parents, friends and family who lined up on the sidewalk with chairs at the western end zone.
In keeping with the spirit of doing the best you can under the circumstances, the Vikings changed their end-game tradition. Instead of singing the school’s fight song with the band, the football team went a cappella and serenaded their fans at the fence after their 28-0 victory.
The sports season seems to be going smoothly overall. There have been a few cancellations in other parts of Washington due to COVID, but that has yet to happen to a West Sound team (yes, still knocking on that wood). The only team I have seen play short-handed so far was Sequim, but that was due to team rules violations, not COVID.
There’s no doubt that the tone and tenor of high school sports changes with just junior varsity teams, school staff and the few, the proud, the local sports media in attendance.
In small towns across Washington, filled high school stadiums can sometimes feel like the whole community is there. Students fervently cheering on their classmates and friends, trying to bring up the noise level to disrupt the opponent and the feeling the players get from wearing their hometown uniform and play in front of the people closest to them are a big part of what makes prep sports so great.
Cardboard cutouts really aren’t the same, but they are at least a reminder of every person waiting for COVID to subside so they can get back to where they belong. Which is, as Kenny Chesney once sang, “Going crazy for the boys of fall.”
Until then, we’ll all continue to make the best of the current state of affairs. And keep an eye out for any unexpected pellets falling from the sky.