MICHAEL CARMAN COLUMN: Return to preps is lifting spirits

A YEAR AND a day. That’s how long it had been since I had last covered a sporting event in person on the North Olympic Peninsula until last Saturday’s Sequim-Bainbridge football game.

Prone to betting on pessimism to win the day in sports and life — what do you expect from a fan of Washington State athletics — I didn’t think high school sports would return this school year in any form.

But thanks to hard-working athletic directors and administrators, coaches, players and parents advocating for the return, and politicians who took a moment to gauge where the winds were blowing when they allowed King, Pierce and Snohomish counties to return to play before counties who have fared better in keeping numbers down, they are back.

It’s glorious.

College and pro sports haven’t really drawn me in during the pandemic. The NBA bubble was a fun distraction during the summer, and college football never left my screen during fall Saturdays, but it’s mostly felt off without fans. If I was sports czar, every pandemic championship would have an asterisk attached.

Beyond the strangeness of having to request access for every prep contest, the attestation form and temperature check and mask-wearing, there’s a sense of the usual and accustomed at the prep events I’ve attended so far.

Once the whistle blows and the ball is kicked, the athletes can lock in and focus on something freeing, not stifling.

While not likely encouraged by health guidelines, I’ve seen my first in-person hugs in months by teammates celebrating achievements.

Coaches can offer encouragement, advice and strategy as the clock ticks, and it all feels relatively natural.

And really, after a year and a day and few more days, it’s a good feeling to have something to focus on that can, for a time, wall off our current realities — a healthy distraction.

Seen from the stands

Not having the typical number of fans at stadiums is understandable, but it’s also creating a Cheapskate Hill viewing phenomenon at some venues.

Fans in vehicles lined the end zone fence at Sequim’s football game and the sideline fence along Wally Sigmar Field for Tuesday’s Port Angeles-Klahowya girls soccer match, with some cars flashing their lights and honking after goals, adding a bit to the atmosphere.

At the end of the Sequim football game, both teams really didn’t know how to congratulate each other. Each squad attempted to form the usual “Good game” postgame handshake line, realized that might not be the best idea and eventually ended up about 10 yards apart with Bainbridge coach Jeff Rouser offering a brief congratulations to the Wolves.

“We didn’t really know what to do there,” Sequim coach Erik Wiker said of the typical postgame routine. “We hadn’t prepared for that.”

Port Angeles, in its home debut at Peninsula College, moved its bench to the side of the field with stands to give the visiting team more space. The Roughriders and Eagles also did away with the postgame handshake line, with Port Angeles instead choosing a team chant of “Eagles” to thank Klahowya for the contest.

It’s hard out there for a team manager this season. Individual water bottles have replaced the larger team bottles, making for far more work for those helping behind the scenes.

I shudder at the plastic mess created by the pandemic hopefully those water bottles made their way into the recycle bin.

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Sports reporter Michael Carman can be contacted at 360-417-3525 or [email protected]

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