Celebration (copy)

Different times: A large crowd of fans celebrate the Kansas City Chiefs Super Bowl LIV victory during the parade in Kansas City in February.

In a hallway at the News-Press, a framed photograph commemorates the Kansas City Chiefs’ Super Bowl victory parade.

The photo shows thousands of fans crowded together at Union Station. It’s hard to look at this image, which isn’t even a year old, without feeling that it’s from some other time and place, like one of those black-and-white pictures that show men wearing suits and fedoras at a baseball game.

The world changed drastically just a few weeks after that photo was taken. Today, you would be hard pressed to find those kinds of crowds anywhere outside of your Facebook memories or on the faded pages of a newspaper. That kind of shared experience is relegated to Zoom meetings.

The games still go on, but they’re more likely to be played in near-empty NFL arenas at the highest levels or smaller high school stadiums closer to home. We can’t ignore that something’s lost in all this. The anticipation of the Chiefs Super Bowl defense took a hit when the team didn’t train in St. Joseph or play preseason games.

Watching NBA playoffs in a bubble was like watching a high-intensity scrimmage. After hitting a clutch home run, a baseball player could take a curtain call in front of cardboard cutouts.

At the college level, cancellations create a disjointed and truncated football season filled with open dates and squelched momentum. Crowd limitations took some of the zest from Friday nights at all of those smaller stadiums across the area.

But at the high school level, local teams forged ahead with a certain doggedness that continues tonight with the boys and girls basketball jamborees in St. Joseph, with games scheduled at Central and Bishop LeBlond high schools. Like football, it won’t be quite the same or feature the loud, packed gyms that normally tip off a season. Some will question whether the contests should even be played at all.

We think they should. Instead of a frown of disapproval, take some time to applaud local athletes and coaches, from youth sports on up, for trying to press forward with some version of a season with reasonable precautions, like masks, social distancing and temperature checks, to limit the spread of the coronavirus.

It might seem surreal at times, but it’s possible that athletes could use 2020 as the year that they return to the roots of why they play in the first place: A chance to lay it on the line and create memories.

Maybe sporting events during a pandemic offer more than just a chance of normalcy for the athletes. They offer a sense of perspective on how a chance to compete is a privilege at any time, but especially in these times.