Sunday, 28 June 2020 19:45

PILLAR: Face masks could strengthen the heartbeat of our sports town

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No one likes to be inconvenienced. I understand that just as much as the next person, and really, it’s just human nature. 

But as much as I or the next person doesn’t like to have their normalcy and daily routine disrupted, we’re past that point with the coronavirus. Our “new normal” is based on health restrictions, social distancing and face masks.

And in order to get back to life as we knew it pre-global pandemic, especially a routine filled with high school, collegiate and professional sports, people should be willing to be inconvenienced — for the short term — to benefit the other livelihoods at risk around them.

The simple thing is to follow Gov. Roy Cooper’s most recent executive order and wear a mask. Even if you think it’s an inconvenience. 

I’m not here to debate politics, hear out the conspiracy theories or argue why masks may or may not be part of a bigger chess match. This column may not even resonate with readers who aren’t major sports fans, Richmond athletics supporters or don’t see the world through a sporting lens.

And that’s okay, because the people who do have a vested interest in seeing the return of high school athletics in Richmond County will more than likely wear a mask. That’s if they want to see and try to help — and that’s a big “if” at this juncture — all six fall sports programs return to action.

One of my very first assignments when I took Randy Jesick’s sports journalism class my junior year of college was to read H.G. Bissinger’s “Friday Night Lights.” In turn, we had to write a feature story on the iconic non-fiction sports novel that chronicles the Permian Panthers and the pulse of a west Texas town as the football team marches toward a state title in 1988.

In my feature article, which I still have framed, I used the rhythmic sound of a heartbeat to pace my story. And when I thought about the parallels between that late 1980s sports town in the plains of Texas, Richmond’s uncanny similarity during the same fall, and our current situation, the heartbeat made it all make sense.

Bum, bum. Bum, bum.

Back in the spring of 2013, when I was writing this piece, I thought towns like Odessa, Texas, only existed in books and Hollywood lore. 

But then I moved to Richmond County, and all of my preconceived notions were washed away when I met the Raiders and the now 47-year history that is filled with other real-life high school legends like Gary Gaines, Mike Winchell, Boobie Miles, Brian Chavez and Don Billingsley.

Our town has Daryl Barnes, Brad Denson, Walter “Flip” Ellerbe, Michael “Rabbit” Waddell, Jason Norton, Perry Williams, Dannell Ellerbe, Melvin Ingram and Bryan Till, to name a few.

But now the 48th season of the Richmond Raider football program, as well as the perennial powerhouse volleyball and boys’ soccer teams, the girls’ golf and tennis programs and the co-ed cross country team, are at stake. 

And this cumulative pulsing sports heartbeat, the thing that brings this rural county alive and together for nearly 10 months out of the year, is on the brink of being silenced.

Bum, bum. Bum, bum.

I recently had a conversation with a Richmond supporter and that person asked if I could imagine a fall season without the kelly green and gold crashing around the football field. Or without the thrill of a big-time kill on the volleyball court or the race back up the field following a late-game soccer goal.

The answer was a simple “no,” and I’ve only been here to experience five years of Raider Magic. And the conversation runs a lot deeper when winter and spring sports are brought up and the possibility of not seeing basketball, wrestling, baseball or softball played.

One of the primary lessons coached in all sports, which can be easily translated and found in almost any profession or community, is that team members are supposed to overcome adversity together.  

Yes, COVID-19 is a big road block, but right now a simple attempt to try and combat its spread is to wear a mask. Even if you don’t like the thought of wearing one in the sweltering summer heat, I’m suggesting following the executive order.

I’ll admit that I’m inconvenienced by it, too. It’s not ideal, my glasses fog up and I tend to misplace my masks often. But masks allow for people, in some capacity, to gather and socialize, which restores some sense of normalcy.

I wear my mask because I love my community and its citizens, I love this historic sports town, I love our athletic programs and I want sports back more than anything. And like I’ve said before — we need sports now more than ever. 

While the outcome of the COVID-19 crisis may not be known for a while, we can all do our part to try and diminish its impact. 

It’s a race against the clock to see whether or not fall sports will be played, but wearing a mask might help us get there. 

We can do this, and even if it doesn’t bring sports back, we’re attempting to make the world a better place.

Bum, bum. Bum, bum.

Sports editor Kyle Pillar is an award-winning journalist with the Richmond Observer.

Last modified on Sunday, 28 June 2020 19:55

Kyle Pillar

Three-time award-winning sports editor. Indiana University of Pennsylvania communications media and journalism alumni. English teacher, Ninth Grade Academy.

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