As I drove on to the school property one afternoon last week, I felt as if I were entering a time warp, or at least a season warp. Snowbanks made a fortress of the practice field in front of the school. Gray slush geysered into the air from the snowblowers on the baseball diamond. Cross country runners in lightweight sneakers skirted the small pond in the back parking lot. Football players gathered in knots, red helmets and green jerseys bright against the cold white playing field. The girls’ soccer team dribbled through the empty parking spaces.
“Oh right,” I reminded myself. “Fall sports began today.”
In some ways, the beginning of the fall sports season (and with it the promise of the spring and winter sports seasons ahead) is a glimmer of normalcy: students, uniforms, referees, stop watches, whistles, starting line-ups, sports buses, water coolers. To some degree, the masks and other COVID precautions seem almost incidental. Even the February start date and the snow on the ground are incongruous, but not entirely incompatible with the activities. Yet the masks, the deliberate distancing, the small teams, the snow — they all serve as reminders that things are not anywhere near normal.
When I heard that the soccer game and cross country meet that my two kids were competing in on Saturday would be available to parents by live stream, I clicked the links. I’m not quite sure what I expected. It’s possible I thought the visuals would look something like the World Cup or the Olympics, the events captured by a video drone flying over the playing field. I wasn’t naïve enough to believe that Katy Perry would sing “Firework” while suspended from a crane, but it wouldn’t have surprised me to see a sports channel logo on the news ticker under the video stream.
The video stream option didn’t look like that. Instead, it looked … well, it looked pretty much like it would have looked if I had been standing there filming it myself, on the sidelines with the other parents on the Tonasket soccer pitch or racing from vantage point to vantage point on the cross country course in Moses Lake. The live stream provided a limited view, a steady soundtrack of wind whistling across the microphone, and an IMAX-like effect of bumpy transitions. The individual voices of coaches encouraging and advising their athletes punctuated the video feed, as did the unfiltered commentary of bystanders. The live stream looked much like the real thing: imperfect, but serviceable.
In fact, the live stream looked a regular old high school sports event. It felt familiar and normal. In other words, it was perfect.