I don't remember a whole lot from my job interview for the Echo Press two years ago, but three things will always stick out.
First, I forgot my suit coat in Sioux Falls, SD. I was so nervous I forgot to bring the somewhat expensive suit coat that my parents bought. The second thing was I made a bad joke that didn't land in the interview. In my head, I was already filling out other applications. But the third thing from that day that I won't forget is what Eric Morken asked me toward the end of the interview: "Are you able to ask high school kids tough questions?"
What Eric was referring to is a moment that happens in every high school career. The day it ends is a somber moment. Mentally strong and able-bodied athletes break down in sadness of their last time stepping on the field with the teammates they grew up with for over a decade. It's uncomfortable to be the guy that has to ask them why their career just ended.
Most kids find solace at the end of their playing days because, most of the time, they get beat by a better team that day. Each group has different goals set out before the season based on their talent and expectations. While some, if not most, are met, the pain of losing still hurts. I once thought it was the worst feeling in sports until I went to work last Thursday and Friday.
I covered the Brandon-Evansville volleyball game on Thursday night and the Osakis and West-Central Area-Ashby football games on Friday. All three teams had state tournament aspirations yet saw their season cut short after the latest shutdown announcement. None of them got the chance to prove what they're made of in the playoffs.
For these three teams, and many more around the state, there's nothing they could've done to keep their season alive. Ending the year on a win and still feeling empty is a heartbreaking realization. It was some of the hardest interviews I’ve had to do yet.
On the scale of the COVID-19 victims, the high school kids who missed out on a couple of games are relatively low compared to the people that lost loved ones, closed their businesses or have lasting health implications. I'm not here to give you an answer as to what the state should have done in regards to shutting down sports or not. Frankly, I'm not smart enough to provide an educated opinion. But I do know that we can be more sympathetic toward these kids.
For a lot of these kids, sports are their entire life right now. They will grow out of it at some point, but their current quality of life is measured by what they do for their team. These football and volleyball players were told they didn't get to play by the Minnesota State High School League before their season was brought back late. Then, it got pulled from them again. All of this happened while they watched their other classmates play full seasons in other sports. Regardless of what you think the state restrictions should be, this was a gut punch to these kids.
I've gotten to know the teams and coaches in this area, and I can promise you that most of these kids are doing things the right way. The MSHSL put them through the wringer. They followed the rules and still had the rug pulled out from under them. These kids feel like they can't trust the information being thrown at them. They feel like they're being lied to and feel their voices don't matter.
So, where do we go from here? Well, we have three more weeks of a shutdown until we try again. I can promise you that your complaining about the mask mandate isn't going to change the government's mind. If you still refuse to change the way you live during this pandemic because you think it's a hoax, then you're the one that's costing these kids this opportunity. The government has planted its flag and asked us to step up.
If you refuse to wear a mask to save your grandmother's life, then you're probably not going to wear one to help these kids play sports. But I hope you find peace in the fact that you are the one taking away these opportunities. You're also the reason small businesses are closing, and schools are online.
Ask yourself, is it worth it? Did you need to go to the bar that night? Was refusing to wear a mask and social distance worth the false sense of rebellion? Or could you just shut up and wear the mask? We can do this safely, but it's a team effort.