STEPH: Things are weird

Things are weird, you guys.  I don’t need to explain it.  You all know what I’m talking about because you’re living it too.

But just before it got this way, right around the time we started to feel it shift to Level: This Might Get Weird, CW asked us to start brainstorming for outside-the-box content in case things did, in fact, get weird.  So that’s what I did.

And that’s how, at 9 p.m. on March 25, 2020, on the eve of what would have been the Sweet 16, I found myself drinking whiskey and eating popcorn as I watched the 2012 boys’ basketball 2A semifinal between Fort Dodge- St. Edmond and Clarinda.  

Let me explain. 

Shortly after CW’s call to action, right around the time we reached Level: Getting Closer to Weird and Starting to Worry, I was sitting at CW’s kitchen table with CW and Jared sharing some of my content ideas. At the end of our meeting, I made a joke that if things got Weird we could always pull out home videos of our old high school games and do some “postgame” write-ups.

Well, as we’ve established, we reached Level: Weird.

And the weirder things got, the more manic I became.  So, last Monday, when I was manic and #missingsports, I told Jared I was going to watch his state tournament games.

In response, Jared specifically instructed me not to watch the St. Ed’s game because he cried on the bench when he fouled out in overtime.  So naturally that’s the game I knew I needed to see. 

Then Jared told me he’d never re-watched the end of that game.  So naturally I convinced him he should watch it for the first time with me.

So, really, that’s how, at 9 p.m. on March 25, 2020, I found myself drinking whiskey and eating popcorn while watching Jared’s second-to-last high school basketball game with Jared (via Facetime, of course, because it’s Weird and Weird means Social Distancing).

I’ll be honest.  I went into this thinking I’d write something tongue-in-cheek about Baby Jared and Baby Jared’s skillz in an attempt to make you all laugh.  But before we even hit “play,” I’d changed my mind.

You guys, as soon as I saw Jared’s face, I realized he was dreading this. 

That game was eight years ago.  Jared was 17 years old.  He went on to play basketball at Simpson and get his journalism degree at Iowa State.  Now he’s the managing editor at Cyclone Fanatic.  It’d be easy to say this game shouldn’t matter to him anymore.  But it dawned on me when I saw Jared’s face that of course this game is still one of Jared’s demons.  Because to Jared, like the rest of us, sports are more than just sports.

As I watched the game with Jared, he didn’t talk about the game; he talked about his relationships with his teammates and coaches.  He told me about how he went on to live with two of his high school teammates in Ames, how one of those teammates is still his best friend, and how some of his other teammates have made some, well, creative life choices.  He told me about how many of the members of 2012 state tournament team returned to Clarinda when one of the assistant coaches passed away.  He told me about how he still thinks of that team as a family.  That team meant a lot to Jared, so, yes, of course that loss still stings.

When we got to the end of overtime when Jared fouled out, I snuck a peak at his face out of the corner of my eye.  As his 17-year-old self put his head down and cried, 25-year-old Jared just sat back and shook his head. 

“Do you regret doing this?” I asked him. “Nah,” he said. “I was devastated then, and it still hurts, but now I look at it and just see a bunch of my friends.”

And that’s the thing, you guys.  That’s why, now that it’s weird, it hurts so bad that we don’t have sports. Because sports aren’t just sports.  Sports are friends, sports are family, and sports are community.  Sports represent all of the things we need most now in Level: Weird but can’t have. 

So do what I did.  Take my idea, the idea that started as a joke, and watch your old games, pull out your scrapbooks, and reach out to your old coaches and teammates. No, it’s not the same, but I’ll tell you one thing:  I’ll never forget watching that game with Jared.  And I won’t forget it for the same reason I’ll never forget watching the 1996 girls’ basketball 3A state title game with my parents or the 2005 baseball 2A state championship with my friends Amber and Annie—it’s the shared experience with family and friends. 

And until it’s not weird anymore, finding ways to recreate those shared experiences is the best we can do to fill the sports void.