I’ve lived my whole life in Texas and have been heavy into sports since the 1960s as a participant, fan and journalist.
But I’ve never seen or experienced anything quite like the last 12 months in Texas sports.
First, we started seeing the effects of COVID-19 in this state and around the nation and the world. So many losses. So many others who’ve gotten sick. I feel for anyone who’s lost a friend or family member to this deadly disease or can’t be close to someone because of medical concerns and restrictions. It hasn’t been easy for any of us.
We’ve had to make lifestyle changes because of the pandemic, including wearing masks and maintaining social distancing and staying home when me might have attended a Rangers’ baseball game or another ball game or tournament.
Fans no longer can walk up to the stadium or gymnasium and buy tickets to most of the sporting events in Texas these days. They purchase their tickets online. Then they sit in a stadium or gym that’s either half empty or sometimes limited to 25% capacity. And sometimes with college games in Texas there are no spectators allowed.
Starting last March the state’s sporting events pretty much got shut down because of the pandemic. The University Interscholastic League called off the boys state basketball tournament after several semifinal games had been played but no finals.
The rest of the spring state high school sports events scheduled for April, May and into June were called off as the Texas Association of Private and Parochial Schools followed the UIL’s lead.
The NCAA’s March Madness was called off. The NHL and NBA seasons were suspended and then resumed as players and teams were protected in what was called “a bubble.”
MLB teams like the Rangers played in empty stadiums with cardboard cutouts in the stands instead of real fans.
The TV networks used simulated crowd noise to try to compensate for the absence of fans but it’s just not the same.
Then the UIL started allowing athletes to condition in June and the fall sports were allowed but with many changes. The football teams in the UIL classes 4A and below started their practices and seasons a month before the bigger 5As and 6As and for the first time that I’ve ever seen we had high school football playoff games and state championships in January.
Texas A&M University-Commerce’s athletic program’s been also been greatly affected by the virus. The Lions didn’t play football in 2020 and with other members of the Lone Star Conference pushed back the start of the seasons for the volleyball teams and other sports. And the Lions’ schedule is often limited to conference play-only.
Now we’ve gotten used to pro, college and high school ball games being called off or postponed while teams and coaches are quarantined due to possible exposure to the virus.
And then the winter storms hit the state in the last week and we’ve all been through power outages and rolling blackouts and have dealt with record low temperatures and hazardous driving conditions.
I grew up in South Texas where we thought 50 degrees was cold. I’ve never been in below zero temperatures before. Never experienced anything like those rolling blackouts before.
There’s been more cancellation and postponement of sporting events as schools and colleges have been closed. I’ve never seen this many cancellations and postponements of sporting events like we’ve experienced in the past 12 months.
The virus and the winter storm continue to put sporting events into perspective. Yeah, most of us Texans love our sports but we want our friends and family members to be safe. I’m looking forward to the days when Texas sports teams can play before a full house of wildly cheering fans and the fans, players, officials and coaches don’t have to worry about their health and safety because of a virus.
David Claybourn is sports editor of the Herald-Banner.