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Tom Rysinski: There was supposed to be a football game tonight

There was supposed to be a football game tonight.

Summer workouts started as they always do, a good turnout of players doing drills in the morning sun. Sure there were masks, and everyone had his own water jug instead of the water station on the bench, but otherwise it looked like any other July workout. This group over here with this coach, that group over there with that coach, some guys resting, others inside.

It looked, well, normal. Except for the sight of all of those water jugs practicing social distancing along the fence.

Back on the other field, girls soccer players were working out, and later in the day the girls volleyball team would be in the gym in one-hour shifts to accommodate limits on indoor crowds while the boys soccer team would be out on the turf during the hottest part of the day. Everyone on each of these teams knew it was possible that the fall season could be delayed or even eliminated.

Eventually, the Nevada Interscholastic Activities Association came up with a creative solution. Each season will exist, in sharply truncated form and in a different order, but each sport will be played. That, of course, assumes Nevada will be in a different place in January. Judging by the COVID-19 statistics in Nye County, that is an open question.

But none of this changes the fact that there was supposed to be a football game tonight.

I love almost all high school sports — and I’m always hopeful that lacrosse will become popular in Southern Nevada — but it’s no secret that football holds a special place at many high schools. This is especially true in smaller towns, and Pahrump, despite its growth, remains very much a small town, while Beatty, Tonopah and Round Mountain actually are small towns.

This means a successful football team at any Nye County school gets a lot of attention around town. Witness the marquees all over Pahrump wishing the Trojans good luck in that home playoff game a couple of years ago, or the huge throng of Muckers fans, many with hair colored red, that followed Tonopah’s football team to Beatty for that state final the same season.

The Pahrump Valley football team might not fill those bleachers much — I’m on the field and I can tell — but they fill several sections and always have a particularly vocal group of students who make their presence known all game.

That small but loud group would have been there tonight, but otherwise opening night is full of question marks. Will there be a few more people in the band this year? Will the young linemen be good right away, or will there be growing pains? And more important, is the popcorn still good?

Watching any sports team find its personality from the first game until the postseason is always a fascinating process for people who do what I do for what passes for a living. Sometimes frustrating for coaches, but fascinating for us. How the younger players move into roles left vacant by graduation is always interesting, as is how the younger players mesh with the returning veterans.

One year’s good story is the next year’s headache. One year’s strength is the next year’s uncertainty. And so on.

We were supposed to get our first hint of that, because there was supposed to be a football game tonight.

Oddly, one thing that cushions the blow a bit is that we’ve known about it for weeks, combined with the knowledge they are still going to try and have a season. But it won’t be the same.

As the playoff races heat up, the weather cools down. There’s nothing like a crisp fall evening just before kickoff. And yes, it does get crisp in Pahrump, even if you never get the proverbial frost on the pumpkin. When someone like me caves in and puts on a jacket for a night game, it’s crisp. And it’s supposed to be that way.

Not this year. Nobody thought we would be here. Nobody thought we would have coaches taking temperatures of players before practice. Nobody thought we would have “phases” of reopening based on statistics involving testing for a virus that did not exist a year ago. Nobody thought there would be pro-virus rallies and retail employees being physically attacked for enforcing a simple anti-virus policy all over the country.

But here we are.

Where we are not is at the high school, waiting for the Trojans to take on SLAM Academy. And it just doesn’t feel right.

When universities that tried to reopen, including the University of Notre Dame, Michigan State University and the University of North Carolina, already have been forced to change plans because of COVID-19 outbreaks, something is horribly wrong. When a pillow pusher is trying to sell something people have used to poison their spouses on more than one Investigation Discovery program as a cure for the virus, something is horribly wrong. Probably several things.

Something as simple as a high school football game would help us forget those things. It would be a welcome return to normalcy. Whether you’re sitting in the stands or wandering the sidelines, you don’t think about the world outside for a couple of hours. We could use that now.

For me, football games are actual work. I keep a play-by-play and running statistics on my pad, not knowing which drive will be the key one or what plays will loom large until the game is over, then trying to find the players I want to talk to in the mass of humanity shuffling off the field. Then there’s the adding of the statistics and, eventually, the actual writing of a story and usually a notebook for the website.

Outside of basketball, which just happens too fast sometimes, no sport requires more work to cover well. And I so wish I had to do that tonight.

Sure, it’s too damn hot for football. Sure, we’ve known for weeks this game was not going to be played tonight, and it might not be played as part of the abbreviated schedule they have just begun to talk about putting together for the six-week season coming in March, virus willing. But there’s still something missing, something both tangible and intangible, and doing it in March is just not the same.

There was supposed to be a football game tonight …

Contact Sports Editor Tom Rysinski at trysinski@pvtimes.com.

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