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COLUMN: Clear Your Schedules, Long Beach

I’m a calendar guy.

Being a sportswriter means that nights and weekends are usually pretty full. That’s a problem for a father of two and someone who would like to maintain some semblance of a social life. People don’t usually schedule birthday parties for Tuesday mornings, for example, a time window I’m much more likely to be free during than a Saturday afternoon.

But for the last 11 months my schedule, like most of the Long Beach sports world’s, has been pretty empty as the COVID-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc on the city and the country. Doing something Saturday afternoon? Well, I still can’t come–but it’s because of the virus, not because of my job.

That’s starting to change, and suddenly I’m feverishly inputting dates into my Apple calendar once again. For a few months after Thanksgiving there were two Long Beach State basketball games a week in the Walter Pyramid. A few weeks ago came the announcement that the rest of the university’s Spring sports would be allowed to return, bringing the promise of Dirtbags, men’s volleyball, and softball games.

Then as the COVID-19 numbers continued to improve, we got a pair of high school cross country meets last week, our first high school sporting events in Long Beach in a little more than 11 months. Those 11 blank calendar pages are unprecedented in our city’s history. They were playing high school football in the early 1900s and nothing since then–not World Wars, not the Influenza outbreak–brought kids’ competitions to a standstill like the COVID-19 pandemic did.

And suddenly, those pages are filling back up. There were the cross country meets last week. In a few weeks swimming, track and field, golf, and tennis will be competing again in Long Beach. Last week’s health guideline update from the state paves the way for football, baseball, softball, soccer, lacrosse, cheerleading, and other sports to resume at the high school level soon as well.

This week has more games scheduled than last week did. Next week will have more games scheduled than this week does. It’s going to be like that until June, with more events and more smiling kids like the ones we got to see last week.

There’s pain behind those smiles. The kids we talked to expressed how difficult this school year has been for them. Some have lost family members, some have experienced financial hardships due to parents losing jobs. Others have just had to deal with the emotional challenges of isolation and struggling with motivation in this new, digital world.

It’s going to be a little longer before true “normalcy” returns to these kids’ lives. But something as small as a cross country meet goes a long way. We saw kids with huge smiles posing for pictures in their uniforms, enthusiastic air high-fives and air-hugs, as well as the joy of competition.

Looking at the blank calendar pages behind me, I can remember the frustration and feeling of impotence knowing that so many were struggling, including in my own family, and that I was powerless to change things. Looking ahead, the calendar is full. It’s full of sporting events, yes, but it’s filled with all those great moments we saw last week too. 

So make some room in your planner, Long Beach. The world is starting to slowly open back up for our kids. It’s going to be very busy, and very, very worth it.

 

Mike Guardabascio
Mike Guardabascio
An LBC native, Mike Guardabascio has been covering Long Beach sports professionally for 13 years, with his work published in dozens of Southern California magazines and newspapers. He's won numerous awards for his writing as well as the CIF Southern Section’s Champion For Character Award, and is the author of three books about Long Beach history.
http://The562.org