As a sports journalist, an amateur athlete and the owner of an aging, ginormous pickup truck I call “Canyonero Junior,” I already wish September were over. And not just for me.
Unfortunately, it still has roughly three weeks to go.
For me, this is a strange mindset. Generally, I enjoy September. But this year is different. Because of a combination of unfortunate outcomes to ballgames, COVID-19, the weather and my rotten disposition, I anxiously await October.
It started on a muggy afternoon/ evening Sept. 1, when I covered Richmond’s season opener with Lawson in varsity softball at Southview Park for this newspaper’s Facebook page. Obviously, Mother Nature thought it was still August. Or worse, the sweltering days of July. Somebody, please, get her a calendar!
Then, there was the unfortunate outcome. Richmond got hammered 23-5 in five innings.
The non-conference ballgame had a promising start, as the Spartans jumped out 3-0. But then, the Cardinals started scoring. And kept scoring. And kept scoring.
There was more unfortunate news that day for Richmond athletics. As this newspaper reported last week, Richmond’s Week 2 road game with Oak Grove in varsity football was called. The Spartans had opened the season with a commanding win over Lathrop, only to learn they would have to quarantine for two weeks because of a COVID-19 case in the Lathrop R-II School District. A KCTV 5 story identified the individual as “a coach and teacher” and reported “a few student athletes” were displaying signs of the virus.
The next day, while trying to finish the Ray County sports preview section for this newspaper, I learned Richmond’s gridiron meeting with Fulton, scheduled for Friday at Spartan Stadium, had been called, too. I snapped. I went from feeling sympathetic for my alma mater’s football program to feeling frustrated for myself. I acted like a middle-aged brat by doing a lowrent Bobby Knight impression.
No, I did not fling a chair across the newsroom, the way the former men’s basketball coach flung a chair across the court during a 1985 game between Indiana University and Purdue University. Rather, I flung a small stack of papers across the office (I later picked them up) and fussed and cussed like Knight for several minutes, partly because I knew I would have to do another 11th-hour rewrite of my Richmond preview story. I already had rewritten it the day before to tweak the information and delete senior running back/linebacker Wyatt Marshall’s comments about the meeting with Oak Grove that was not to be.
Richmond-Fulton being called off meant revamping the story again. Sadly, that meant deleting coach Nick Persell’s insightful comments about the significance of a Richmond-Fulton meeting. As Persell pointed out, members of Richmond’s 1971 team would see it as “kind of special,” given the Spartans had defeated the Hornets in ’71 for the Class 3A state title. Alas, those Spartans of yore must wait for that special experience.
Of course, Richmond is not the only area school that has canceled or postponed football games because of COVID-19. As this newspaper also reported, Excelsior Springs called its Sept. 4 road game with Warrensburg because of two cases reported at Savannah, its Week 1 opponent. And I learned on the Missouri State High School Activities Association website that Excelsior Springs’ home opener with Moberly has been postponed from Friday to 4 p.m. Saturday.
I hope those are the only changes to the Spartans’ and Tigers’ schedules. Surely, the players, coaches and fans of those teams feel the same. But I am guessing many of them fear the COVID-19 virus will rear its ugly, spiky head and force more changes, as do I.
Fortunately, other area fall sports programs have not had their plans disrupted by COVID-19, including two area 8-man football programs – the Norborne Hardin-Central co-op and Orrick. On Sept. 4, they played each other at Hardin-Central. And I was there.
I saw a spirted, seesaw meeting between two friendly rivals. I also saw one of the strangest endings I have ever seen in my years of sports reporting.
As I state in my game story (see page 9), Orrick had the ball on the NHC 4-yard line, leading 29-26. If memory serves, there was 1 second left, time for one more play. There was an expectation on the NHC sideline and among the NHC players on defense that Orrick would kneel down to end it. Instead, the Bearcats scored a touchdown, followed by an across-the-field coaches’ debate over whether the Bearcats had announced they would take a knee, followed by Orrick quarterback Blake Buchanan diplomatically taking a knee on the two-point conversion attempt. I cannot recall covering another game with such an ending.
I felt that it was my job to ask both head coaches about the incident and let each one tell his side of the story. I dreaded it – probably as much as they dreaded having to relive it by discussing it. But I asked them about it as tactfully as I could. Graciously, Orrick coach Eric Fairchild and NHC coach/former Richmond schoolmate Kirk Thacker answered my questions, and we all got through it.
Before writing my NHC vs. Orrick game story, I wanted to play some Saturday morning walking soccer in Independence to clear my head. When I left Richmond that morning, the sun was shining. Around Orrick, however, I drove through a cloud burst – while the sun was shining. When I crossed the Missouri River and drove into Sugar Creek and then Independence, it was cloudy and rainy – a bad sign.
A small group of us opted to wait at Rotary Park to see if the steady rain would cease and we would get to play. It did not. Instead, it rained harder and hailed. A long drive for nothing.
Well, maybe it was for something. I gained a few insights. I learned my Canyonero Junior could negotiate the small river that had been 23rd Street in Independence, though I was on edge while steering it around (sometimes through) the rapids.
And I learned I could almost beat Noah’s ark in an uphill drag race through said river. Frankly, I think Noah cheated. I swear I saw two dolphins leap off the deck into the 23rd Street River and push his boat (yes, I kid).
The final straws that sent me pleading to God for October’s arrival occurred Labor Day. Because Richmond was scheduled to play Lexington that afternoon at Lexington in varsity softball, I put the game on my calendar to cover. I hopped in the Canyonero Junior (dry by then) and headed south of the river again. When I reached the top of the steps near the press box/ concession stand, I was told the media were not being admitted because of COVID-related restrictions.
Another south-of-the-river trip for nothing.
Correction: I gained another “insight” from my drive. I learned the radiator on my Canyonero Junior is still leaking (sigh). As of this writing, it was scheduled to be repaired Wednesday.
But the past week or so has not been all bleak. This latest round of sports-related events has reminded me to count my many blessings. One of them is that, as I mentioned, games continue to be played, unusual endings, restricted access and all.
I was blessed to cover one of them Tuesday, when Richmond won 10-0 in five innings in varsity softball (see page 9 again) – and it was about 20 degrees cooler. Sure, it drizzled, but I will take cool and rainy over muggy any day.
Another blessing – a “sideways blessing,” some might call it – is that others are having to change their schedules, etc. like I am and are probably as frustrated at times as I have been lately. So I do not feel alone.
The biggest blessing, though, is that the calendar inches ever closer to October.
Yep, I still want September to be over.
PREP to PRO
High heat, drop kicks, random observations and points that amuse are all part of the wide, wide world of sports at the community and national levels.