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How It Started: The Pandemic On Day One

"This has been a very strange day all around"

Posted: Friday, December 18, 2020 - 10:35 AM


As the year comes to a close, we know 2020 has been a year like no other. The Covid-19 pandemic has turned everything in everyone's lives upside down, and that includes Minnesota high school activities. Today's I'm re-posting a piece I wrote on March 12, one day before the state basketball tournaments were suddenly halted. If we only knew then what we know now...

Home Is Not Where I Planned To Be Right Now

This has been a very strange day all around. As I begin typing these words, it's 6:10 p.m. and I’m sitting at my kitchen table watching TV coverage of the girls state basketball tournament. That was not at all my plan when this day (Thursday) began.

I arrived at Williams Arena/Maturi Pavilion a little after 8 a.m. today – three hours before the first game -- knowing things were going to heat up in the wake of the Coronavirus news. Indeed, a few hours later we announced that only a limited number of spectators would be allowed at the girls tournament Friday and Saturday. Later in the day, this weekend’s adapted floor hockey state tournament was canceled.

Before I left to drive home around 5 p.m., I was sitting courtside at Maturi Pavilion with my good friend Pat Ruff from the Rochester Post Bulletin. Pat wiped off the tabletop with Clorox disinfecting wipes he had brought, and I used the bottle of hand sanitizer that has been my constant companion lately.

Pat and I like to have a laugh and solve the world’s problems, but our conversation this time was quite serious. It’s simply the not knowing … about this virus, what it may do, how and where it may spread, what impact it will have. The fear.

I belong to a high-risk group for the Coronavirus. I am over 60 with a chronic condition; specifically, I am 61 and have diabetes. I also have a loving family and an infant grandchild.

If you have read my writing and/or followed me on Twitter for any length of time, I trust you know how passionate I am about high school activities. I had tears in my eyes driving home today, and I have tears in my eyes as I watch the games on television. I really do not want to be at home right now.

I have missed a few … very few … big events because I was ill. And it’s so odd to be absent this week because I am fearful of this specific illness.

I so want to be at the games, sharing the stories of these kids, these teams, these communities. Hearing the great bands, enjoying the enthusiastic crowds, seeing all those excited faces. There are schools that have never sent a team to the state basketball tournament prior to this week. There is a coach whose family is grieving the death of a beloved teenage niece. How about the Henning Hornets, following in the steps of last season’s boys basketball team and getting to state for the first time? What grand tales to tell.

One of the last people I spoke with before exiting today was Henning head coach Mike Hepola. He’s also a longtime MSHSL football official and a good guy. Mike and the Hornets were waiting to take the court at Maturi Pavilion and face Fillmore Central, another first-time state entrant, in the Class 1A quarterfinals.

Mike and I exchanged an elbow bump instead of a handshake. I bumped a lot of elbows Wednesday and Thursday, the first two days of the tournament, and also used a lot of soap and hand sanitizer. I’m trying to be smart about this.

As I got in the car, I received a text message from my daughter. Allison is a high school English teacher. One of her colleagues, whose name is Marie, is someone I know. Like me, Marie is diabetic. Allison’s text read: "Marie’s doctor called her and told her to stop leaving the house and that diabetics should be staying home. I encourage you to do the same!!!”

My wife, Beth, has been saying the same thing this week, reminding me that the Centers for Disease Control has warned those over 60 with chronic health conditions to avoid crowds. As I sat courtside with Pat, Beth called and encouraged me to come home right then. She closed her argument by saying, “I can’t lose you.”

This note is posted on the CDC website: “If you are at higher risk for serious illness from COVID-19 because of your age or because you have a serious long-term health problem, it is extra important for you to take actions to reduce your risk of getting sick with the disease.”

And this: “Avoid crowds as much as possible.”

Before beginning to write these words, I posted this message on Twitter: “A personal note... I have arrived home from the girls state basketball tournament. I won't be there tonight, Friday or Saturday. I'm not ill but I am fearful since I am in a high-risk group for this virus (over 60 with a chronic condition...diabetes). More thoughts to come...”

That message was followed by so many wonderful, sweet, heartfelt comments from people. Just now I noticed that one of the Twitter accounts that “liked” my message belongs to my oldest son in California. He is our beloved grandson’s father.

Now my screen is extra blurry because I’m typing through more tears.

As I packed my bag and stood up to leave the tournament, the last thing I said to my friend Pat was this: “Say a prayer for all of us.”

Be well, my friends.

--MSHSL media specialist John Millea has been the leading voice of Minnesota high school activities for decades. Follow him on Twitter @MSHSLjohn and listen to "Preps Today with John Millea” wherever you get podcasts. Contact John at jmillea@mshsl.org

I was sitting courtside at Maturi Pavilion with my good friend Pat Ruff from the Rochester Post Bulletin. Pat wiped off the tabletop with Clorox disinfecting wipes he had brought, and I used the bottle of hand sanitizer that has been my constant companion lately.

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Looking Back To Where This All Started (continued)