Pruitt column: Let March Madness mark a new beginning

Published 12:00 am Thursday, March 17, 2022

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I walked into Pete’s one day last week for my usual morning ritual when I’m there for breakfast — Bo’s Special with French toast, scrambled eggs and sausage patties. Kathy had my sweet tea on the table before I even had a chance to sit down. It’s always a nice way to start the morning. After I cleaned my plates and got up to leave, I reached on the table for my mask. It wasn’t there. I began to deduce that I didn’t take one into the restaurant, the first time in a long time that I hadn’t done that and didn’t really need to do that (hopefully) anymore once the mandates were lifted by the county. Two years to be precise.

Last Thursday, March 10, was exactly two years to the day that the world stopped cold. We were aware of COVID at that point but still weren’t quite sure when it would invade our own worlds. There were reports of the first case in Washington state. Then I remember the first case in North Carolina being reported in Raleigh. Then, COVID developed a name and a face most everyone could identify with when Tom Hanks and his wife, Rita, announced they had both tested positive.

I was at spring sports picture day at West Forsyth, chatting with coaches and a few players about the likelihood of the season continuing now that the epidemic was in its beginning stages. Alert after alert began buzzing on my phone. The rest of the ACC Tournament, which was being played in Greensboro, was being canceled. The North Carolina High School Athletic Association first announced that state basketball championships, which were scheduled to take place in two days, would be played with no fans present. Soon after, they canceled the games and declared both teams in the championship games would be recognized as “co-state champions” for the season. Spring high school sports teams in North Carolina discovered the next day that their seasons were being canceled.

The NBA suspended its season indefinitely after several positive cases were reported. The NCAA Tournaments for men’s and women’s basketball were both canceled. The PLAYERS Championship on the PGA Tour followed suit, as did The Masters, the Kentucky Derby and NHL. March Madness took on an entirely different meaning. In a span of a few days, strange things began to happen at warp speed.

Sports events were played without fans and endured numerous cancellations, postponements and rescheduling. The NBA finished its season in a “bubble” in Orlando, Florida. Roger Goodell conducted the NFL Draft from an easy chair in his basement. Last year’s NCAA Tournaments were all held in the bubble of Indianapolis, Indiana.
We learned phrases like “flatten the curve” and “social distancing” in our everyday lives. With two school-aged children at home — one in high school and one in middle school — we also learned phrases like “virtual learning,” “Canvas,” “asynchronous learning,” “synchronous learning” and “cohorts.” We praised the teachers who had to learn a new way to do their jobs in a very, very short amount of time. We were grateful to the healthcare professionals who were overwhelmed as we heard story after story about what this nasty virus was doing to people. And we were devastated as we saw the number of cases and deaths continue to rise. We learned to adapt to the ”New Normal.”

Life was on hold at my house. That was OK. We wanted to do our part to keep not only ourselves healthy, but also our loved ones and those in our orbit.

We were among the first to receive vaccinations when they were made available last February. So were our children when they were approved for their age group later in the year. We watched numbers dwindle last summer and into the fall before omicron reared its ugly head towards the end of last year, causing another dramatic uptick in cases and fears.

And now, things are seemingly getting better again. Back to normal — whatever that means now.

I spent last weekend enjoying the ACC Tournament on television again. I watched what could be watched of the PLAYERS Championship, which was marred by some crazy rain and wind for the opening rounds, which forced the event to finish on Monday.

I watched the NCAA Tournament selection show in anticipation of the brackets being released and seeing which teams would be playing each other and where. I’ve always felt like the first two days of the NCAA Tournament are the among the best days for a sports fan. Not only do you feel the energy and excitement of the games and especially the upsets, but you also realize that opening day for baseball is right around the corner. You know The Masters is right around the corner. March Madness normally marks the beginning of all kinds of excitement for me. After two years, I feel that same buzz again.

And after all we have been through during this “new normal,” it feels good to find that comfort in the first stages of my old friend again, with the feeling that things are slowly creeping back to normalcy.

With that being said, the ACC Tournament should never be played in Brooklyn. There is NOTHING normal about that — new or old.