In the ongoing war against an enemy we had never heard of until four months ago, an enemy we still don’t really understand and have limited tools to fight, the impact on high school athletics could be looked at as being pretty trivial.
After all, sports are just games, right?
Participants and observers certainly have to put the best needs of the community first and sacrifice to help out the heroes in the medical and research professions who are leading the battle.
I have no doubt that most players, coaches, officials, administrators and fans understand the logic behind the decision that was announced Tuesday that all schools in Utah would remain closed — and by extension all high school activities would be canceled for the remainder of the 2019-20 school year.
But emotionally, it hurts. It hurts a lot.
And I hope everyone who is dealing with that pain right now like I am realizes it’s OK for it to hurt.
I was pretty sure this was going to happen. I have seen the numbers and like everyone else have tried to comprehend the steps being taken during the COVID-19 pandemic.
There was that part of me, however, that desperately clung to the tiny, illogical hope that we would be successful enough in our efforts to have a return to normalcy in May, and I would get to once again be on the field and the diamond and the track to see athletes giving their all.
Now that flicker of optimism has been snuffed out and it brought out some pretty raw emotions for me.
I grieve for the schools that won’t have activities to rally around.
I grieve for the families who are already dealing with so much and have to deal with another loss.
I grieve for the coaches who give so much of themselves and won’t get to see those efforts blossom in the same way this year.
I grieve for myself and other sports reporters who don’t get to tell the stories of the highs and lows of thrilling competitions.
But more than anything I grieve for the athletes, young men and women who drive themselves to be the best they can be but have had pretty much an entire season ripped away due to circumstances beyond their control.
It’s not fair — but life never is.
I’ve often thought recently of this simple but profound exchange between the classic literary characters Frodo Baggins and Gandalf the Grey in “The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring”.
“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo.
“So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”
This is the reality that you face right now, high school athletes.
So just what will you do with this time?
Here are a few things I hope you do:
I’m not quite sure where I am in the seven traditional stages of grief: shock, denial, anger, bargaining, depression, testing and acceptance. I know I’m not to the last one yet.
I suspect there are thousands in Utah Valley who are somewhere in those stages as they think about the loss of sports. Go through them at your own pace and recognize that it is completely natural to feel how you feel.
Some days are just going to be harder than others. Some days it’s not going to be about doing great things; it’s just going to be about making it through each hour and each minute.
Sports is a coping mechanism for me and many others, one I don’t really have right now. We have to find other ways to deal with the stresses of these crazy days.
3. Don’t go it alone
You are still part of a team even if you aren’t competing. Teammates give everything for each other, and I hope players and coaches will continue to do that.
I’ve found that I often just need to connect with people who I know care to drive away the disappointment and frustration. Value those people — and be that person who cares whenever you can.
4. Be proud of your successes
Look, you don’t have to win a state title to be part of a great team. You don’t need to bat 1.000 to be a great baseball or softball player, or score 100 goals to have a great soccer or lacrosse season.
What I love most about sports is that they are all about you pushing yourself to be your best, individually and collectively. COVID-19 can’t take that away.
So be your best.
Keep working, keep doing what you can to develop your skills — athletically, academically, technically or in other ways. Be appreciative of every step forward you make.
To every single baseball, softball, track and field, lacrosse, boys soccer, girls golf and boys tennis player in Utah Valley, my message to you is to be strong.
I’m pulling for you to make it through these tough times and prove just how powerful and resilient you really are.