Tuesday, February 25th, 2020
My view of Sutton Gymnasium at La Crosse Central High School was SO close to perfect. If they just would have built the safety bars that separate the upper and lower seats a few inches lower I wouldn’t have had to adjust my seat to see the whole floor unimpeded. As it was, the game that played out that evening wound up about as one-sided as I had expected, and I probably could have called the game pretty well by simply guessing what was happening in front of my compromised sightline. Johnny Davis’s conservative point total of 21 points not even half the margin of victory for the #3 Red Raiders. I give Sparta and Coach Phil Yahnke all the credit in the world; when you are taking on a foe of that magnitude, one which there seems to be no path for victory against, it would have been very easy to rest on their laurels and fold up those last two games of the year ahead of the postseason. But behind 12 from junior Brian Sanchez, the Spartans showed great heart and persistence against their opponent. I know everyone in attendance appreciated and respected the resolve of both teams.
And had I known what the world would look like exactly one month later, I would have given them a standing ovation.
A few weeks later, the Red Raiders found themselves in a similar situation: top-ranked Onalaska had downed Central twice already this year, including a six-point triumph on that same gym floor I watched a thorough dismantling take place two weeks prior. But stout defense and a valiant second half on offense propelled Central to a 55-40 win. It’s said that during halftime, head coach Todd Fergot promised his big man Terrence Thompson that he would carry him on his back off the floor if Central came back to win, and true to his word he did just that, carrying the 6’7” Thompson out of the Logan Fieldhouse with the entire team in tow.
That was, for many in the Coulee Region, the final image we would have of sports for the foreseeable future.
The night before, Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert tested positive for COVID-19, forcing the immediate postponement of that night’s Jazz-Thunder game and subsequently the rest of the NBA season. One by one, the sporting dominos fell, with the NHL, MLB, and NCAA following suit soon after. There had been hope that the WIAA boy’s basketball tournament would play out the following week (the Central-Onalaska game above had been moved around twice before tipoff and was played in front of a controlled crowd), but that would soon too be nixed. The girl’s basketball state semifinals played a few games in Green Bay before they were also called off, denying the opportunity for a possible Top 10 girls basketball game in state history between Aquinas and Melrose-Mindoro.
If you’re like me, the month that has gone by since February 25th feels like leaping through a wormhole and entering into another reality, which is figuratively what has happened. Phrases like “flatten the curve” and “social distancing” have entered our lexicon overnight, hundreds of thousands around the world are sick, tens of thousands have died, and as of today residents of Wisconsin aren’t even allowed to leave home unless it’s for essential work or errands. I’m sitting here right now in a makeshift radio studio I’ve built in my bedroom in an attempt to do what little I can; I certainly don’t WANT to work away from a building I’ve built my career around, but I realize that if I CAN, I should.
The severity of the situation seems to be finally getting across to most; you could argue it took the suspension of a major professional sports league to even get people in America to remotely consider the extent of the problem. As of today, a firm called Unacast says Wisconsin’s travel overall has decreased by nearly 40% while Minnesota is down 46%. And at least until April 24th, this will be our new norm as the virus continues to spread in our area; it’s safe to say we haven’t come close to the peak of its impact in Wisconsin.
My role with ESPN La Crosse 105.5 has changed dramatically over the last few weeks. I have been reassigned to work more on the COW97 side of our company, handling morning and afternoon news reports that mostly consist of COVID-19 news and updates. But make no mistake, ESPN La Crosse 105.5 will go on, and I will be a part of things. I still plan on doing my Facebook Live Monday videos, albeit from home, and will be working hard to put out more blog articles with the time I do have in between everything else. Obviously with sports the farthest thing from people’s minds right now, the topics of these articles remains to be seen, but I’ve thought about doing articles related to the history of sports in the Coulee Region. Being as big a buff of history as I am sports, the two go hand in hand.
I’ll leave you for today with these thoughts:
And above all else, remember that we are all in this together. Right now we are at war with COVID-19, and through a combined effort of all people working together in our own way, we WILL come out victorious. Wash your hands, avoid touching your face, abide by social distancing orders, and never lose hope for a brighter future.