“Sports are rough this year.”
That’s the text I got from a friend of mine when the men’s basketball season drew to a close on Thursday. It drew a reflection from me in the moment that I don’t think they expected. Usually, I am passionate about my teams.
This year both the men’s and women’s teams missed the tournament after first round exits in the GLIAC tournaments; both teams had a losing record for the first time since the 2013 – 2014 season. However, that isn’t the point of this article. Instead, I want to point towards the positive aspects of this season.
Any other year, I’d be disappointed, but this year, it was not about winning or losing.
Men’s and women’s basketball were able to pull off a relatively full schedule this year, with only a few game cancellations or postponements. Normally we would see 30 basketball games, not 20 like this year, as there was a minimal non-conference schedule for men’s basketball and no non-conference for women’s basketball.
In fact, all of the winter sports teams were able to see nearly a “full” schedule, as in only a handful of games were canceled.
We were able to observe the revival of sports here at the university, and even though these teams didn’t see a tournament bid, they were able to play. They set the standard for a “post- pandemic” season. Basketball and hockey are the only teams that get to say they were the first sports to see action since sports were put on hold here at the university.
I reflected further: I looked into what I do and at the operation I’m running here as the sports editor for the Torch.
Due to GLIAC rules, no fans were allowed to be in attendance, making it so the only people who could attend these basketball games were the athletic staff and the media. Most of the time it was just us and the sports reporters from the Big Rapids Pioneer.
Looking back on it, I almost get emotional thinking about how special it was to be able to see these games in person, to take photographs as Walt Kelser sinks a three, or Michael Peterson gets a rebound. To listen in as Rob Bentley interviews men’s head coach Andy Bronkema or women’s head coach Kurt Westendorp. We were one of a very select group who got to witness these games.
There was notably an eerie silence to it all though. In one of the games I attended, Kelser scored 39 points. I could almost imagine the arena going wild as he sank three-point shot after three-point shot. But in reality, it was quiet beyond cheers from his teammates.
A part of me wanted to drop the professional façade I have when reporting these games. Seeing a team or even a player who you’ve covered be successful draws out an inkling of a fan. It almost happened again when I was covering both basketball and hockey games this year where I dropped what I was there to do and just became a fan.
But I stayed silent, and the teams played on.
This year isn’t a season where we should look back on and be disappointed. We got to see some of the best basketball players in West Michigan take to the court. That’s something that took more effort than people can even imagine in this time period. Being able to sit down and watch a group of athletes who I look up to play their hearts out almost made me feel normal again.