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OPINION

It’s a ‘first-world’ problem and they’ll get over it, but you have to feel for the kids

Mike Christopherson
Crookston Times

    We don’t have a lot of sympathy for extremely well-compensated professional athletes. Even their most passionate fans, when it comes to the athletes’ various complaints, the general response is typically a giant, “Get over it!”

    That trend has continued with the COVID-19 pandemic. The sports world last spring was essentially cancelled, and when the various pro leagues returned months later, the games were played in empty stadiums, in front of very little or no fans. It wasn’t entirely quiet, as stadium staff piped in varying levels of manufactured crowd noises, be they cheers or boos. But despite the athletic prowess on display as elite as ever and numerous compelling games and storylines to enjoy, a major component is missing: Actual fans.

    But when the pampered players have complained, for the most part the reaction has lacked empathy.

    But the kids who are playing games, participating in activities and achieving other feats with their parents, families and friends not there to enjoy the moments with them? It’s painful. We feel for you!

    Nowhere was this unfortunate reality more apparent than in the large group room at Highland School last Thursday, when the annual school district spelling bee was held. The author of this editorial has been the official word pronouncer at the bee for many years, and when all of the fold-down chairs in the auditorium are full of parents and grandparents and siblings, it can get pretty intense, emotional and exciting. For the pronouncer, it can be downright nerve-wracking, but in a good way. You can imagine what it’s like for the young competitors, too, with so many watching them try to spell correctly spell difficult words and the whole room hanging on every letter.

    Last Thursday, to put it bluntly, it was like a morgue in there. Eighth-grader Elizabeth Grace Smith won the socially distanced bee, which featured around half of the competitors it normally would so that the spellers could remain spread apart. The pronouncer was there, the trio of judges were there, as were a couple of teachers. Smith moves on to the regional bee in Thief River Falls on Feb. 3. Congrats to her, and good luck!

    After each round, the very limited number of people in the room produced a few claps to fill the awkward silence, and when Smith spelled a short but tricky word that would have tripped up many others had they not listened intently to its definition, it was silent again and Smith really didn’t know if she was supposed to continue standing at the microphone or head back to her seat. Again, there was a smattering of applause in recognition of Smith’s victory as well as the other spellers’ efforts.

    But, obviously, something major was lacking.

    There’s a laundry list of similar experiences parents and families and students could cite that have transpired since last March. If the events haven’t been cancelled, like prom, they’ve been drastically modified, like commencement ceremonies, or last year’s Miss Crookston Pageant. No doubt the kids are still making lifetime memories, but it’s likely that many years from now what they’ll remember more than anything is how the pandemic dramatically altered more than a year of their young lives.

    Hopefully, we’re nearing the closing stretch of the pandemic. Prep winter sports are being played in front of small crowds, with each student-athlete allowed to sell two tickets. At least the parents can be there.

Mike Christopherson, Crookston Times managing editor