As I rode past Darnell-Nelson Field and Garrett-Harrison Stadium this past weekend, I was saddened by their lack of use over the last two months. Instead of standing empty and unused, the two should have been active. We all should have been watching local kids play baseball and going through spring training for football. But, no. Here we are sitting at home waiting for the President or Governor to tell us we can return to life as usual.
That will never happen. How do you go back to usual after going through life under the guidelines set for the coronavirus? We may never shake hands again or sit in groups of more than eight people in a restaurant again. So, how will we sit at the stadiums watching sporting events? Will we fin eight people we want to sit with and separate from the next group by six feet all around? How many people will be allowed in the stadiums under those restrictions?
I have written sports here – in Phenix City – for 48 years. I was looking forward to beginning a 49th year in August as the new high school football begins – if it begins in August. Some officials are predicting that will not happen. I certainly hope they are wrong. I want high school football to begin in August, college football in September and the NFL whenever NFL fans want that league to begin.
But, if that does not happen, I would be okay with the three starting a bit later. Heck, it is so hot when the season begins for high school players in the South that beginning in November would be no big deal. Of course, that would push basketball back some if you have athletes playing both sports.
I have watched so many games over the years that it is hard to keep them apart in my memories. When you have watched over 450 Central High football games, it tends to happen. I know I enjoyed all but one game between the 1993 and 2018 seasons. I wish they had won all 29 games over the course of those two seasons, but there was one loss – to Opelika High. Then if the Red Devils had not lost that one game, they might not have won the Class 6A title and their first state title in school history in 1993.
Like I said earlier, I hope to begin my 49th year of sports writing this fall – if we have a fall season. I just hope we have a season whether it begins in August or December or April. If we do not, will the next year still be my 50th year of sports writing? Or, will I get a Mulligan and get to pretend it is still my 49th year? No, August will begin my 49th year and the next August will begin my 50th year – should I be lucky enough to still be writing at all.
When I began writing about sports at 15 years old while in a sophomore at South Girard, I never dreamed my writing career would come to this – the possibility of writing 50 years in the same city, mostly about the same team. And I certainly did not dream of having to sit around not being able to watch live sports in our local stadiums for two months in my 48th year in the profession. Heck, when this coronavirus is over, I may wish that it had only been two months of no sports in our local stadiums.
Right now, I wish the coronavirus would go away just to be able to watch some little leaguers play some games. Those games are now looking as if they will not be played either. I hope that is not the case. Phenix City has too much money invested in playing fields around the city for that to happen. Heck, the thing Phenix City is best known for is sports.
Look at all the athletes this community has produced – David Ray, Wally Chambers, Eddie Lowe, Jeremiah Castille, Woodrow Lowe, Mitzi Minor, Nathan Rustin, Joe C. Meriweather, Claude English, Ed King, Wilbur Holland, Leroy Propst, Harvey Glance, Justyn Ross, etc. I will stop there because there have been so many.
Remember the college football National Championship game last January? Phenix City was one of the winners of the game because it had two athletes on the Clemson Tigers and a coach and a player on the LSU Tigers sidelines. Other than the fact that the Tigers were guaranteed a victory in the game because both teams were named Tigers, Phenix City was guaranteed a win.
This trend of putting athletes on the next level or the professional level will not end soon. The talent trough is not empty by any means. It is exciting each year to see which athletes will shine – and not just at Central. The areas other three schools have placed athletes at the higher levels as well.
So, you can see why I want the high school sports season to begin in August. You can see why I would be happy to see it start even a little later. In my 48 years as a sportswriter, I have seen this talent bloom and written their stories. I hope I get to write a few more before my writing career comes to a close.
I am ready to see the stadiums opened again and filled with fans. When that happens, my sadness will end. And, I expect the coronavirus will be gone as well.
Mark Clark is a local sports writer for The Citizen of East Alabama.