When the Colorado school year started, extracurricular activities were very much up in the aerosolized air. The overseeing body, the beloved (I’m kidding) Colorado High School Activities Association (CHSAA), finally resorted to the alphabet, proposing A, B, C and D sports seasons, truncating the duration of most sports to fit an extra fourth season in.
The presumption is that closer contact will be safer as the school year extends, a presumption that may or may not have merit, given that the Dakotas are at or approaching 60 covid cases per 100,000 people and Wisconsin hospitals are being overrun while the Republican legislature still attempts to turn back every health mandate by the Democratic governor.
CHSAA (we like to say “Cha (‘a’ as in ‘sat’) suh” decided boys’ golf and softball were okay to play in the nice fall weather, but boys’ soccer and football were better off in not-nice March. (Girls’ soccer and golf are already spring sports.) But then our governor, apparently without consulting anyone, took it upon himself to announce one day this fall that it would be okay to play football now.
[A word about this Democrat: I have it on very good authority that he is absolutely reviled by every single person on our Incident Command team, headed up by the county’s public health office. From a personal view, I don’t see that he has followed through on too many of his pandemic promises — as we at one point ran last in the nation in testing despite a vow to be #1; he seems to have championed groceries over restaurants and bars when allowing liquor sales; and that state aid to small businesses remains non-existent, with the same promises from July that money will be available “in the next few weeks.”]
CHSAA held an urgent board meeting and overrode the governor, saying no, football would remain on hold until the spring, but then schools started overriding CHSAA, which finally relented and said there would be two seasons, fall and spring, and schools could choose which one to play in. (Oddly enough, soccer remains on hold.)
Which is how I found myself on the Gunnison Middle School football field yesterday afternoon.
Mary, the athletic director, gave me first right of refusal for the job of timing the seventh- and eighth-grade games. I decided it sounded relatively safe: Gunnison has had four or five positive cases over the last week of September, but Incident Command assured us they were mostly out-of-town visitors (although at least one is local); the games are outside; and my place is on the field, away from people on the sidelines, trailing the players by at least 10 yards.
I doubt it was as safe as I went in thinking, since student spectators were clumped as tightly as they could be, none of them with masks, and I kept adjusting the new mask I was wearing to keep it in place. I was handling footballs subject to multiple middle-school hands, although I brought sanitizer and Mary got me some latex gloves midway through the first game.
It was outside on a splendid fall afternoon, though, and it seemed a moment of normalcy in this time of Corona. Or sort of.
The umpire was a man named Bob, who once upon a time was a Gunnison Mustang himself (unless he’s old enough to have been a Ruland Junior High Warrior instead). He was wrapped in long sleeves and a huge gaiter, plus gloves, which are required for the officials. He even had a required cloth cover for his whistle, which can’t be blown without pulling a mask down, so why the mask was required I don’t know, but that’s Corona for you.
Bob was working with two Jakes, one of them also a product of the Gunnison gridiron who someday soon will start building my sister’s house; the other a baby-faced likely college student who was clearly in his first game as an official. He learned quickly, but Bob found himself doing his job and Jake’s for much of the afternoon.
The football field during gametime is no place for heart-to-heart conversations, but when I asked Bob about the job I heard he’s taken three days a week in Canon City, a three-hour drive in good weather, he said his private psychology practice got hit hard by covid (I might have thought his patient load would increase, but perhaps he wasn’t set up for online services), so he is supporting his family by taking on the additional job with the Colorado Department of Corrections.
At some point when I got close to an end zone I encountered Andy, who started school in Gunnison, moved to Meeker with his family for high school, came back to Gunnison for college, worked in education elsewhere and ultimately landed back in Gunnison as the principal at the same high school where his father was the assistant principal back in my day.
This year Andy has switched to the middle school, which he said yesterday felt like a piece he was missing from his experiential resume. He also said it was a challenge getting to know the students when all he can see is their eyes. I told him we hired someone just two weeks before the shutdown and none of us know each other’s faces particularly well either.
Andy wanted to know if it was as bad downtown, businesswise, as he’s been hearing. For some reason this surprised me, I guess because official numbers like sales tax don’t seem that far off. (I haven’t had a chance to watch the county’s presentation on our economic status that took place while I was footballing.)
I know that my business is “hanging in there,” which is what I tell people who ask, but I guess I assumed most businesses would be telling people that it’s going great even if it isn’t. That’s what I heard from several owners early on, about how they were having their “best May ever,” and apparently I haven’t heard much since — or at least not what Andy’s hearing, which frankly makes more sense.
In between all my covid reports, boys were playing football, same as every fall. The opponent was North Fork, which used to be two separate schools, Paonia and Hotchkiss, before the closing of two coal mines gave those communities a vivid prelude to Corona collapse — only theirs isn’t temporary, no matter how interminable covid seems right now.
(I did use up some brain cells on the field trying to remember that Hotchkiss used to be the Bulldogs, although I could remember Paonia Eagles, and now I’m wondering if they’re the Beagles, or Bugles, or Buggles. My mind might drift occasionally out there, especially when the score gets lopsided and we move to a running clock, meaning I don’t have to pay nearly as much attention.)
Those poor North Fork boys had a terrible time hanging onto the football, and just as I celebrated with them the completion of a long pass, they fumbled the ball away yet again, and both games ended with Gunnison the winner, 42-0.
But the sun was shining like it should in Gunnison, and the football was moving, sort of, and kids were acting like kids, with adults there to cheer them on. For maybe the first time this season, it felt like Fall– and almost normal. Almost.