Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Best Laid Schemes

As published in The County Times (

By Ronald N. Guy Jr.

“May you live in interesting times.”

For some, it’s an ancient blessing; for others, it’s a curse – “interesting times” being code for some sort of upheaval.  Its origins might be Chinese; although it has links to British history.  Whatever the meaning, intent or source, living in interesting times certainly applies to a world now battling the spread of COVID-19, a virus that, ironically, began in China.  Or maybe, according to a wild suggestion by China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, it was started by the U.S. Military.

Despite the mysterious history of the quote and rumors of this pathogen’s origins, this isn’t in question: the disruption this micro-organism will have on our lives has just begun.  Sports, in context of an evolving public health crisis, are an insignificant footnote to a developing new way of life, but last week it was the world of sports that first triggered the transition to our new normal.  The NBA first suggested playing games with no fans – how naïve and “early March that seems now.  Shortly thereafter, a Jazz-Thunder game was cancelled before tip-off after Jazz players Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell tested positive.  Then the league suspended the season for 30 days.  The NCAA slowly followed suit, first cancelling conference tournaments and then making the unimaginable, but absolutely appropriate, decision to cancel March Madness.  NASCAR and the NHL quickly adopted the coronavirus shutdown protocol.  Golf nixed its near-term schedule and postponed The Masters.  MLB has delayed the start of the 2020 season and the NFL’s league events are fluid.  For all intents and purposes, the sports has been shut down indefinitely - and it all happened in a dizzying 48-hour period.

But the sports columns must go on, if not for your sanity, then certainly mine! 

Again, setting aside the true victims of this disease – those battling or who have succumbed to COVID-19 – and focusing only on those inconvenienced by its spread, my sports mind immediately extends sympathies to amateur athletes.  As Maryland closed out a victory over Michigan in the regular season finale to secure a share of the B1G conference championship, I applauded as senior guard Anthony Cowan was removed from the game in the waning seconds.  Little did we know that the victory over Michigan would be Cowan’s last game as a Terrapin and the end of the season for an exciting Maryland team. 

The disappointment extends far beyond College Park. 

Dayton and San Diego State, two unlikely basketball powers, had generational teams and legitimate chances to win it all.  Former Wizards head coach Leonard Hamilton had perhaps his best Florida State team and was poised to make a serious run at the national championship; the same can be said for head coach Mark Few and his Gonzaga Bulldogs, a perennial contender that’s never cut down the nets. 

Down a level, it’s hard to contemplate the number of high school athletes who didn’t finish winter sports or who will have spring sports cancelled altogether.  To lose a season at the college or high school level – one of only a precious four – is just a real kick in the knee; and for the seniors, it is an unfortunate end to one of the great experiences in life – amateur athletics.

Tom Hanks, who is currently being treated for COVID-19, channeled Jimmy Dugan, the character he played in the movie “A League of Their Own”, when concluding a social media post on his condition and the virus with “There’s no crying in baseball.”  Or in the world’s battle against a pandemic, so Hanks’s suggestion goes.  I suppose that frank statement applies to all athletes who lost a season or saw their amateur athletic careers end prematurely.  That seems a little harsh, but then life just has its way with us sometime.  As Robert Burns said in his poem “To a Mouse”, “The best laid schemes of mice and men often go awry.”  

At the end of this, let’s just hope that lost athletic seasons remain among the most significant social consequences.  For if so, we won.  Until then, good health to all while we navigate these most - unfortunately - interesting times. 

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