Boyette has come home to Aiken Standard 1

John Boyette

These are extraordinary times.

The coronavirus has become a pandemic, and it’s affecting all facets of life: travel, financial markets, school, work, you name it.

It’s serious business: As of Friday afternoon, more than 125,000 cases have been reported around the world, and nearly 5,000 people have died.

Perhaps the most jarring effect has been on the world of sports. Just a couple of weeks ago, it was business as usual for all of the major sports leagues in the U.S.

Sure, a few events had been canceled overseas, but that’s because the COVID-19 outbreak started in China and was most prevalent there and a few other foreign countries.

Then the dominoes began to fall.

By Wednesday, the outbreak had caused the NCAA to announce that its March Madness tournaments would be played but without fans. The NBA suspended its season late Wednesday night after one of its players tested positive for coronavirus.

On Thursday, all hell broke loose in sports. Major basketball conferences, including the Southeastern and Atlantic Coast, canceled their men’s conference basketball tournaments.

Major League Baseball, the National Hockey League and Major League Soccer all suspended activity, and then in late afternoon the NCAA dropped a bombshell: all of its winter and spring sports championships were called off, including the March Madness tournaments for men’s and women’s basketball.

The PGA Tour had let fans attend the first round of The Players Championship but then announced starting Friday and going forward events would be played without fans. That changed late Thursday night when the tour canceled the final three rounds and all of its events leading into the Masters Tournament.

That led to a nervous 12 hours or so. Would the Masters cancel outright or postpone? One thing was clear: It was unlikely to hold a tournament in April, with or without patrons. Would “a tradition unlike any other” survive the coronavirus?

The news came Friday morning at 10. The Masters would indeed postpone its main event and two amateur events, the Augusta National Women’s Amateur and the Drive, Chip and Putt National Finals.

In all honesty, I think that was the best case scenario for Masters patrons, golf fans and the local economy. A total cancellation would have had a devastating economic effect in Augusta and would have been felt in Aiken County as well. The postponement isn’t ideal – think of all the houses that have been rented out, hotel and dining reservations that were made, tee times at area courses that have been booked – but at least there is hope that it will happen this calendar year.

Oftentimes, we turn to sports or other forms of entertainment (music, movies, television) to help us forget about the troubles of the world. They give us an outlet and allow us to escape reality, even if just for a few minutes or a couple of hours.

Spring is my favorite sports time of the year. It begins with March Madness and it’s always a treat to watch the Cinderella teams take down the Dukes and North Carolinas of the world and make a run for the crown. Then it’s the cry of “Play ball!” and the sounds of baseball, like the crack of a wooden bat or the thud of a ball finding a leather glove. Then comes the cherry on top with the Masters: seeing the world’s best golfers, at a beautiful venue, and renewing old friendships and acquaintances.

All three of those events usually converge on the first weekend in April. But now one is canceled, one is suspended and one is postponed.

That’s not a tradition I care to be a part of going forward.

Thanks for reading.

John Boyette is executive editor of the Aiken Standard. Reach him at jboyette@aikenstandard.com or 803-644-2364.