FRIEZ COLUMN: When the sports world stopped spinning
A look back on the day COVID-19 brought a halt to high school and college sports in Minnesota, one year ago today.
You know those TV episodes that open with a crazy, seemingly unexplainable scene before the screen flashes “48 hours earlier”?
Well, on March 14, 2020, I was isolating at home, streaming a random high school basketball state championship game in Nebraska, and watching a guy named Frankie Fidler make the game-winning free throws for a Bellevue West team that erased a 14-point deficit in the final four minutes.
Forty-eight hours earlier…
A full-capacity, maskless crowd packed inside Maturi Pavilion in Minneapolis to watch the Red Lake girls basketball team compete at the state tournament, and I was there to cover it.
I remember feeling claustrophobic in the middle of a crowd, worried that someone around me had the coronavirus. If memory serves, there were nine confirmed cases in Hennepin County at the time.
Five minutes after the Warriors lost their opening game, the Minnesota State High School League canceled the consolation bracket. And so it began.
March 12, 2020: The day COVID-19 first crashed down on Minnesota high school and college sports.
I wrote my game story from Williams Arena as Pioneer multimedia editor Jillian Gandsey worked on her photos. I even remember passing by current Minnesota Lynx guard and former Lakeville North star Rachel Banham on the way to the media room.
Suddenly without another Red Lake game to cover, we departed home to Bemidji once we finished. We stopped at a restaurant along the way, and I remember the surreal feeling of doom and gloom as I scrolled through social media for the latest news and reaction to what had instantly become a very real, very near pandemic.
Later that day, the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference suspended its regular season, stranding Bemidji State baseball in Arizona and BSU softball in Florida. The Western Collegiate Hockey Association canceled the remainder of its postseason tournament, and then the NCAA ended the Beavers’ dream season by canceling the national tournaments.
The next morning, the MSHSL canceled the rest of the girls basketball state tournament, plus the remaining boys basketball section and state action. The Cass Lake-Bena boys were scheduled to play for the Section 8A championship that night.
High school sports in Minnesota were postponed until April, and ultimately the entire spring season was lost to the virus. States around the nation began shuttering one by one.
Nebraska was one of the final states to keep playing, leading me to satisfy my sports craving by watching Bellevue West go on a closing 16-0 run to win the state title by two points.
We’ve faced a lot, learned a lot, overcome a lot in the year since. Even without sports, our department produced a hypothetical WCHA Tournament recap , dove into all the Bemidji High School state champions and found some hidden gems à la Bemidji’s 1933 basketball mystery .
Sports slowly returned and offered plenty of relief, different and socially distanced as they may have been.
It’s been a hard year, undoubtedly, but I’m confident many can say that plenty of good managed to come out of it. While this is the reality for now, it feels like we’re nearing the home stretch of a weird and unfamiliar kind of lifestyle.
As we embark on the beginning of Year 2 of COVID-19 (OK, that feels weird to type), we’re inching closer and closer to normalcy. Slowly but surely, vaccines are rolling out, states are opening up, and we as a people now have a better understanding of who we are and what we’re made of.
We may have found ourselves down early, but it also feels like we’re now in the middle of a late comeback.
Sports are proof that a little bit of hope can go a long way. Just ask Frankie Fidler.