For several reasons, last Thursday’s local showdown between West Jones and Taylorsville was, by far, the most enjoyable event I’ve attended in 2020.
Thanks to recently loosened restrictions on attendance, the bleachers were filled with fans whose energy and enthusiasm resonated throughout the stadium. The two teams harnessed that energy to fuel memorable performances, which resulted in an epic clash between two of the Pine Belt’s most respected high school football programs.
Most of the game was played through rainfall, as Hurricane Delta approached the area, but that did little to dampen anyone’s spirits. Warm smiles could be seen in every direction. Even after their team lost, the visiting fans seemed to swell with pride, knowing their 2A Tartars had gone toe-to-toe with the 5A Mustangs for four quarters.
What stuck out the most to me that evening, however, was the absence of several things I’d become accustomed to seeing and hearing.
Not once do I recall hearing the words “coronavirus” or “pandemic.” There were no heated arguments between those whose opinions differ on issues such as racial inequality, law enforcement or the upcoming presidential election. A diverse crowd of people not only sat side by side but seemed to have enjoyed each other’s company, divided only by the teams for whom they were rooting. Even so, coincidentally, both fan bases were wearing the same colors.
I’ve spent nearly a decade of my life sharing stories that demonstrate the positive impacts sports have on the lives of people in our local communities. I drove home from Thursday night’s game knowing I had just witnessed this impact in a bigger way than ever before.
The relationship between athletics and society is undeniable. The two feed off each other just as the Mustangs and Tartars fed off the energy of the fans cheering them on.
The late Juan Antonio Samaranch, who served as president of the International Olympics Committee for more than two decades, once described this relationship as “a marriage between sport and culture."
"We pursue one ideal: that of bringing people together in peace, irrespective of race, religion and political convictions, for the benefit of mankind,” Samaranch once said.
If Samaranch was alive today, he would hardly be surprised to see us all uniting once again over sports during difficult times. Any doubt he might have had concerning the power of sports likely vanished in the early 1980s when he watched the entire world come together to celebrate the Olympic Games, in spite of growing tensions that many feared would result in nuclear war.
Of course, when the games end and the lights are turned off, the problems plaguing our society will still exist; and there are times when these issues should be brought to the forefront. But there are also times when we should all reflect on the things that bind us together.
If you haven’t had the opportunity to attend a game this fall, I encourage you to do so. Come support our local coaches and student-athletes in their quests to represent our schools and communities as best as they can.
Find a seat next to someone you’ve never met, and take a few moments in between the action to enjoy conversations with them. Call me crazy, but you might just find that we all have a lot more in common than you ever imagined.
You might just make a new friend.
As they say on ESPN, “this is the power of sports,” and that power is still alive and well in 2020.