Sports marks a return to normalcy on Kitsap’s COVID anniversary

We’ve wound all the way around to the one-year anniversary of the first COVID-19 case found in Kitsap County. It was on March 8 that a presumptive positive was announced by public health officials, and we later found out the first two cases were an older couple on Bainbridge Island.

Since everything in my life seems to be related to sports in some way, that announcement came one day after the North Kitsap boys basketball team captured the 2A state championship in Yakima. By late February, most high school teams weren’t playing as we were deep into district tournaments and regionals in basketball, which, looking back on it now, seems to be most fortuitous as the quick spread of the virus could have been even worse.

Going out and covering games as I normally would around that time was interesting — new case announcements were slowly trickling out as testing really wasn’t widespread. No one altered their behavior, gyms were full for playoff games, and there wasn’t too much talk of what would eventually become a global pandemic. At that point, the gravity of the situation was not apparent.

But the day the Vikings won it all changed everything. I was driving around Yakima doing important things, such as picking up lunch from Miner’s Drive-In, when the woman to whom I will soon be related by marriage called, asking me to bring home a common household item. Toilet paper, she requested.

In anticipation of a months-long lockdown, shelves at Safeway and Albertson’s were picked clean, much like you usually see anytime the weather reports a chance of snow. So I strolled into the Target a few blocks from the Yakima SunDome and picked up a pack of toilet paper, which was plentiful; however, shelves full of hand sanitzer were gone.

I went about my day after that. I ate my chicken fingers and fries in my car in the SunDome parking lot, went inside and found a good spot at the media table for the championship game. It was unforgettable; the Vikings and the Bantams battled it out for four quarters, but North Kitsap’s aim was true in the clutch, and they won the program’s first-ever state championship, and the first boys hoops championship in Kitsap County since 1983.

I didn’t realize that it would be the last time I’d cover a game for nearly a year.

I returned to our office in Poulsbo the following Monday. With winter sports behind us, it was time to focus on spring previews. Then came the postponements, the school closures and the economic shutdown. It was no longer a distant problem confined to the eastern side of Puget Sound. We now knew it was in every corner of the state.

That sentiment was reflected in that week’s cover of the North Kitsap Herald. The Vikings championship team photo takes up a good chunk of the front page, but alongside it in the right column was the headline “COVID-19 hits Kitsap County.”

The front page of the Bainbridge Island Review was quite stark. “It’s here,” reads a centered headline in large font, strangely juxtaposed with a sports teaser for the upcoming Bainbridge High School track season. I know folks like me were hopeful there would still be some kind of spring sports season, but instead, high school athletics went dark for nearly a year.

In that time, I’ve marked the progress of the fight against the pandemic as I do virtually everything else — through the lens of sports. First professional leagues were in bubbles, then they played at home in front of no fans, then fans were allowed in some places.

And the state of sports reflects our current reality — some hiccups, a few bumps in the road, but leagues are forging ahead. And so are we. We’re not all the way back yet; high school games are mostly played without fans, and student-athletes still have to wear masks, but cases are down, and more vaccines are produced and administered.

Each day, slowly, but surely, normalcy is being restored little-by-little.