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Hurricane Ian damage puts sports in perspective

Games got back underway Monday night at Cardinal Mooney High and Sarasota Christian, with hope in the air.

Cardinal Mooney senior Madeline Carson (6) leaps to block a shot against Bradenton Christian on Monday. The match was the program's first since Hurricane Ian hit the area last week. (Photo by Ryan Kohn.)
Cardinal Mooney senior Madeline Carson (6) leaps to block a shot against Bradenton Christian on Monday. The match was the program's first since Hurricane Ian hit the area last week. (Photo by Ryan Kohn.)
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I watched live sports on Monday night. 

It would be an unremarkable experience at most times, but a week ago I was not sure when the experience would come again.

A week ago, I, like the rest of you, was preparing for Hurricane Ian's arrival and praying that the storm would somehow not reach the terrifying potential experts had predicted it could have. In some of the darkest moments, when the force of the storm became no longer potential but reality, I wished for our region to be spared the worst of it, that the storm's fiercest winds would blow somewhere else, that the rising tides would flood the streets of a city I did not call home. 

It was intrinsically a selfish wish. I knew that. I did not realize how selfish it was until it came true. 

I awoke the morning after the storm and went to cover Siesta Key. There was damage, yes, but it quickly became clear the island, and the rest of Sarasota, would be OK in a relatively short amount of time. People were already bike riding and eating at restaurants and swimming in the Gulf. In retrospect, I was lucky I or anyone else got to drive onto the island at all. In mini-breaks between talking to residents, I checked social media for pictures of the hurricane's damage. I could not look away from the destruction that took place a few dozen miles away from us.

North Port was under water. Sanibel Island was razed. Fort Myers didn't fare much better. 

They were the type of photos that make my normal job of covering sports seem trivial. 

And now I'm back to that job. On Monday, I took in the first half of Sarasota Christian's football game against Academy at the Lakes before driving to Cardinal Mooney High to catch the Cougars' volleyball match against Bradenton Christian. Both area teams won; the Blazers football team beat the Wildcats 42-12 while the Cougars volleyball team swept the Panthers 3-0. But as Mooney coach Chad Davis said after his team's win, it was still a little strange for them to be out there. 

"You could tell emotionally that we were not all there (in the beginning)," Davis said. "It affected them. We just wanted to get them through it. I think they did a good job. The uncertainty of the future is the hard part now. You have to be ready to adjust. But I'm proud of them for what they did tonight."

The hurricane wasn't the only thing affecting the mood. Prior to Mooney's match, the school held a moment of silence for those worst affected by storm as well as for Carlos Wilson, a local videographer and photographer who worked with many area teams and was popular with players. Wilson, 25, was killed in a car accident in Lake County on Sunday morning. Players and coaches from other schools also shared prayers for Wilson, a Booker High alumnus, on social media. 

In the wake of the two events, it is understandable to have little room for sports in your mind. Forget local sports for a second. Why do we, as a society, put so much value in the outcomes of people playing games? Why do we put real money on them via bets and fantasy sports? Why do we drink our sorrows away and complain to strangers on the internet when "our" teams lose? Why do we watch endless hours of coverage on ESPN or read extensive magazine features about the inner lives of our favorite athletes? Now think about local sports. Why do we yell at umpires and referees just trying to provide a good experience for kids? Why do those kids talk smack to each other online? Isn't this all supposed to be fun?

It doesn't make much sense to get invested in this stuff, not when people are out here quite literally just trying to survive. We should be invested in them, right? We should invest our time in the humans in our lives. 

And yet there's not much more human than sports. They contain stories of triumph and defeat. They contain strategy, athleticism, competition, camaraderie and respect for others (ideally, anyway). When written about well, they create a shared experience. When played well, they create community.

I think often about how the New Orleans Saints winning their first game back in the Superdome, after Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005, changed the spirits of the city. That first game, a 23-3 win over Atlanta, featured a first-quarter blocked punt by safety Steve Gleason, which cornerback Curtis Deloatch returned for a touchdown amid a deafening roar from the crowd. 

“It was like an explosion,” Deloatch told the media afterwards. “It was like I just gave New Orleans a brand-new city.”

The Cardinal Mooney volleyball team comes together after winning a point against Bradenton Christian on Monday. (Photo by Ryan Kohn.)
The Cardinal Mooney volleyball team comes together after winning a point against Bradenton Christian on Monday. (Photo by Ryan Kohn.)

At the Mooney game on Monday, once the two teams settled in, the Cougars' bench was screaming after each point won and the Bradenton Christian bench and junior varsity team screamed back. Both sidelines were full of laughs and smiles. After the match, they told each other good game. 

I don't know if the Mooney match caused an explosion like Deloatch's punt return, but I enjoyed the heck out of watching it, as did the rest of the crowd. That is a small thing, but it goes a long way in creating joy, and joy leads to hope. Hope is something that we could all use right now. On the whole, the night was a reminder of why we cover this "trivial" stuff in the first place. 

I can't say that things are fully back to normal. Booker High, Sarasota High and Riverview High will not reopen until Oct. 10. Nathan Benderson Park, the home of rowing and running in the area, is still closed as of Oct. 4. Once they do reopen, it remains to be seen how athletics will be handled. At the least, schedule changes for the fall sports will likely be necessary. DeSoto County High and Lemon Bay High, football district opponents of Booker High, had the hurricane substantially damage their stadiums. Venice High, a district opponent of Riverview High and Sarasota High, had an entire goal post get cut down among other things. And those are just schools in the general vicinity. 

But the road back to normalcy has begun being paved. It started the day after the storm and it took another step on Monday night, as strange as it is to say.

I will still be thinking about the pictures from the places south of us for a long time. I hope those places get to experience that feeling of community hope soon enough. 



Ryan Kohn

Ryan Kohn is the sports editor for Sarasota and East County and a Missouri School of Journalism graduate. He was born and raised in Olney, Maryland. His biggest inspirations are Wright Thompson and Alex Ovechkin. His strongest belief is that mint chip ice cream is unbeatable.

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