Confusing Thursday was obviously just the start of uncertain time
There was no intent behind it, the song was just the next one up on the music system in D.C. Everest High School’s fieldhouse last Thursday night five minutes before the Rib Lake Redmen and Pittsville Panthers squared off in a WIAA Division 5 boys basketball sectional semifinal.
As the 1987 smash hit “Land of Confusion” by Genesis blared over the speaker system and each team’s 88 allotted fans geared up for tip off, I just had to chuckle and post the above thought on my Twitter feed.
“Land of Confusion” was marked by one of the best videos of its time (yeah, videos, remember those?) and the lyrics could fit just about any chaotic national or global crisis.
There couldn’t have been a better song title to sum up the previous 24 hours.
Just a day or two prior, the message Americans were getting with the surge of coronavirus news was don’t panic, live your daily lives but be diligent about hand washing, covering your coughs and sneezes, keeping some distance, etc.
Suddenly, our heads were spinning with cancellations, postponements and banning of large crowds or gatherings being announced up by the minute.
Thursday started with hard-to-grasp notions that the NBA season had been suspended the night before and that NCAA conference basketball tournaments and the ensuing March Madness spectacle would be held with next to no people in arenas. Just before 9 a.m., schools and media outlets throughout Wisconsin got an email from the WIAA detailing a limited attendance plan for the remainder of the girls and boys state basketball tournaments. The initial email, however, made no real mention of the boys sectional rounds, which, except for a couple of games played a day early on Wednesday, were set to start Thursday night.
That was confusing until the WIAA cleared that up with a follow-up email and news release a short time later saying that, yes, sectional games were included in the guidelines. Even with that, people like myself were confused by the sentence that read, “Press accommodations will be restricted to either a small pool that would provide copy to the state or to one reporter per school team.” What was the definition of small pool? Who decides who that one reporter per team is? Is this just for state or does it include the sectional? It was a stressful couple of hours, but by noon at least I knew I had clearance to cover Rib Lake’s game that night. Access to Saturday’s sectional final in Pulaski, if the Redmen won, was not guaranteed. But one step at a time.
During the late morning and early afternoon, reports from elsewhere continued to come in that were just stunning. Just difficult to wrap your head around. The Big Ten tournament was canceled just before tip off. The first Big East tournament game of the day got started and then was called off. Heavyweights Duke and Kansas are pulling out of the NCAA tournament. What!?!!?
The Medford Home and Business Expo is off, Major League Baseball is pulling out of spring training. The NCAA tournament is canceled. Again, what?!!? You mean, I gotta sit through this late winter/early spring time where you can already do next to nothing and not have March Madness to pass the time?!!? No opening day at Miller Park to count down to either?!!?
Being in the D.C. Everest fieldhouse felt like a respite from the outside chaos. Then, about a half-hour before the game tipped off, I saw the tweet that signaled the end was imminent. The Kohl Center in Madison would not be available for the boys state basketball tournament. My heart started thinking about alternative options to just get this tournament finished. My head said logically, who wants the headache and liability now of trying to host such an event?
I went to bed excited for Rib Lake, who dominated its fourth straight post-season game and had me 100% convinced it would win the sectional championship. But I also went to bed knowing the WIAA was holding an emergency meeting by conference call and its decision was inevitable. I learned Friday the official announcement came not even 10 minutes after I shut off the lights.
Friday meant many across Wisconsin were trying to mentally come to grips with the strange end to the season. If it was OK to play last night, couldn’t we have at least gone another 48 hours to finish the girls state tournament, determine the 20 boys state qualifiers and then tell those teams and schools, we’ll try to come up with something down the road for you, hang in there?
We realize a week later, the WIAA may have stuck its neck out a little too far by playing games on Thursday. Don’t blame the WIAA for the shutdown. It did all it could to keep hope alive. I read the pain on executive director Dave Anderson’s face as real during a Thursday morning press conference regarding the limited attendance policy that lasted one day. No one wanted to make these decisions.
Teams like the Rib Lake Redmen worked for weeks, months and years to get their shot at the state’s premier high school sporting event. This team was led by four seniors who epitomize that. It’s the dream of smalltown Wisconsin to be in the spotlight for those few days, to be on TV, to be mentioned by all the major newspapers, websites and radio stations. It won’t happen now and the kids and coaches had absolutely no control over it. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime deal for those kids and oftentimes once in a generation, if even that, for those communities.
At least when you lose your last game, you had some control over how it ended.
Every amateur athlete who puts in the dedication deserves to experience that emotion of the last game. About 99% of them go out not winning the last one. The realization that it’s over is unique. The team experience is unique. The end hurts because these young people aren’t likely to experience anything like it again. I’ve always felt those few minutes of tears after the last game are awesome because that’s how you know how much it meant to athletes.
Now for us in the sporting world, our focus turns to the next season. Will the work and preparation put in by athletes in spring sports be all for naught? The NCAA has already canceled its spring seasons. While athletes can regain the season of eligibility, there are going to be thousands of seniors on a timeline to graduate. Sticking around another year won’t make sense to many of them.
As this issue of The Star News reaches the newsstands Thursday, a week ago seems so distant with everything that has changed all across America in that time and no one knows when “normal” will be back. Each day, “normal” feels further away. It’s undeniable this is incredibly serious stuff that is going to make people sick, people are going to die, plans are going to be changed, money is going to be lost and it’s not just going to pass in the next couple days or weeks.
Confusing thoughts linger. Why did the concern in America take off not when the most vulnerable of people were catching the COVID-19 virus, but when one of its healthiest, Rudy Gobert of the NBA’s Utah Jazz, who will likely beat it easily, got it? Why has a virus that attacks the head and lungs caused people to buy countless rolls of toilet paper at one time? If this thing is so contagious and can spread so exponentially, how is it possible that we’ll be ready to send kids back to school and to the practice gyms and fields on April 6? And how mind-blowing is it that the world can be brought to its knees by an organism so small?
“This is the world we live in. And these are the hands we’re given,” was the lyric jamming radio stations 33 years ago. I’m also reminded of the words commonly used by those great philosophers of my college years in the 1990s, Beavis and Butt-Head, that sum up the situation perfectly –– “this sucks.”
Hang in there everybody the best you can.
Matt Frey is the Sports Editor at The Star News.