Getting back on track

It’s funny how something that was once a part of your daily routine can feel foreign after time away.

After nearly 11 months without covering a sporting event, I hopped in my car and made my way down Route 3 to Belfair last Saturday. The athletes weren’t the only ones excited to be back out on the fields and not even the rain that began falling by the time I reached Silverdale could damper my enthusiasm.

The feeling of pulling up to a high school with a notepad, a camera, and questions about off-season training routines, college aspirations and the thrill of winning that first race of the season felt new again. I had forgotten some of the small details of what happens each time I cover an event, such as conversing with volunteers, staff and the folks who work behind the scenes to make these events happen.

I also got the sense that many people, including me, were happy to be out among people they had not seen in a long time, and were happy to be conversing in person rather than over the phone or Zoom. There’s no technology that accurately simulates human interaction.

It was undoubtedly one of the coldest and rainiest starts to the cross country season Washington has had. A steady light rain fell over Phil Pugh Stadium for much of the morning. Central Kitsap and North Mason had to deal with the worst of the weather with conditions clearing up by the time South Kitsap and Bainbridge toed the starting line.

The staggered start times were also unusual. Runners went out in waves, and teams were kept in separate sections of the bleachers. Two teams each were bused in and out before the next two arrived in order to keep contact between groups of kids who were otherwise not close contacts at a minimum.

Fortunately, kids running with masks will turn out to be a one-time event. Per the governor’s office Wednesday, runners will be allowed to drop their mask once a race begins. Many of the runners I spoke to Saturday said it was difficult to keep their mask on, and for some it simply fell off entirely.

But other than that, it was like any other day at the track. Runners celebrated their successes and cheered on teammates. They made their way into the woods, traversed through mud puddles and sprinted to the finish line. There was a sense of normalcy in the atmosphere for at least a few hours.

And for the next few Saturdays, that’s what I’ll have. The Olympic League has scheduled at least four more cross country meets, and there is hope for a culminating league-wide meet sometime in mid-March. For now, it’s the only sport allowed to have competitions.

Perhaps there will be more. By the time this column publishes Friday, the state will have announced which regions, if any, move on to Phase 2 of Washington’s latest reopening plan. If the Northwest region gets there, the rest of the traditional fall sports can resume playing games.

I certainly hope that turns out to be the case. The state has already allowed the counties with the highest, second-highest, and fourth-highest rates of COVID-19 to resume activities such as indoor dining and, to make matters worse for places such as Kitsap, will only reassess the metrics every two weeks instead of every week as initially announced.

It seems silly at best to allow restaurants to open at 25 percent capacity indoors all across Seattle, but the Bainbridge Island and North Kitsap girls soccer teams can’t play a match outdoors on Tuesday evening. If there was no opportunity for a “season” of fall sports to occur in some form over the next few weeks for those interested in participating, I believe that would be a shame.

I wouldn’t know how to explain that to the kids. I wouldn’t know how to tell them that Napavine and Onalaska will be able to play football this weekend, but they can’t. I wouldn’t be able to explain the math behind allowing King County to start reopening while Garfield County, which has had just 85 confirmed cases since the pandemic began, cannot.

Hopefully, that won’t be the case. Sure, the normalcy is good for me, but it’s much, much more important for our student-athletes.