Sports Desk: Life in a pandemic isn’t fun and games

The arrival of the COVID-19 global pandemic struck different people in different ways. For me, March 11, 2020, is the day that stands out in infamy. That was the day my eyes were opened a little wider to the new reality we all have had to come to grips with.

March 11 was a strange day in more ways than one. Americans were still trying to comprehend what this all meant — the arrival of a deadly virus that was making its terrifying presence felt, taking one victim after another.

One of those victims was sports.

That realization became clear March 11 in the late afternoon at our staff story conference. (I didn’t know it at the time, but it was my last day in the newspaper’s Mattituck office for six months.) Executive editor Steve Wick alerted me that I would be needed to write news stories. The sports section has been put on hold since, with the news hole needed for many of those stories that, one way or another, are linked to the pandemic.

Not only has my world changed, but our whole world has changed.

That night, I was sitting on my couch watching an NBA game between the Knicks and Atlanta Hawks. It was during the game when the play-by-play announcer, Mike Breen, passed along the news that, in light of the coronavirus, the league had suspended the season, effective upon the completion of the game.

So strange.

In quick order, all sports were shut down. The NBA, MLB, NHL, college basketball, high school sports, you name it. Closed for business.

What a strange time. The sports world had never seen anything quite like this. Sure, sports had been put on hold before, like after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, but even that was for a much more limited time. Because of the novel coronavirus, we didn’t have sports for an awfully long time, and that was strange. For sports enthusiasts, it was as if a hole had been drilled though their souls.

It sounds crazy now, recalling that coronavirus was a real concern when I covered my last two live high school sporting events, a Long Island boys basketball championship game between East Rockaway and Southold and the New York State Indoor Track and Field Championships at Ocean Breeze Athletic Complex in Staten Island. Nowadays, I can’t imagine covering an indoor sporting event.

So, we were without any sort of sports for a while. I missed watching a sporting event so much that I even looked forward to and watched the NFL Draft in April, and I’m not a draftnik.

All of our major pro sports eventually returned to action in some form, usually with no fans in attendance. Not to be naive about it, because money was the main impetus (and that’s not a bad thing for an economy that needs every bit of a shot in the arm it can get), but those leagues did an admirable job, bringing fun and games to people, allowing them, even if only for a couple of hours, to get their minds off the pandemic.

At the high school level, we saw last spring’s season canceled after only a few days of practice. Long Island public schools did not play this fall. Instead, public schools in Nassau and Suffolk counties will squeeze in all three of their seasons from January to June, starting Jan. 4 — if that is possible. And that’s a big if.

With positive tests rising amid a second wave, it remains questionable whether it will be safe to play high school sports this winter, and perhaps even this coming spring.

We have seen how much sports means to people. State and school officials are being pushed to let high school athletes play, but it all must be kept in perspective when it comes to putting lives at risk. In a pandemic, there are some luxuries we can’t afford.

Although New York State officials sound determined to give high school sports every chance they can, it’s possible that Long Island public high schools could be looking at a school year without sports.

When high school sports do return to us, they may be appreciated more than ever. By then, 2020 will hopefully be a bad memory, a nightmare in our collective consciousness.

Good riddance, 2020. And here’s hoping 2021 is a lot kinder to us all.