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Sports, now more than ever, more than just a game

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Posted at 7:37 PM, Mar 23, 2020

These are unprecedented times.

As the coronavirus pandemic spreads across the globe, it's hitting harder and harder right here at home on American soil. Many didn't recognize the severity and seriousness, though, until the sports world halted. That day, now almost two weeks ago, that the NBA suspended its season and the NCAA acknowledged the possibility of canceling its men's basketball tournament clarified that our world was changing and we were about to experience something most of us had never dreamed possible.

We were about to enter a world without sports.

It further hit home when the Montana High School Association ultimately canceled its high school basketball state tournaments, crowning co-state champions at the conclusion of the Friday night semifinal games. The MHSA then suspended the start of the spring sports season. At this point, it would be a shock if that suspension didn't turn into a cancellation.

Schools have been closed, businesses have been shut down and the public has been urged to stay in. Those are, so far, the significant steps taken during these unsettling times.

Sports are just a small part of our isolation and social distancing, but they are, indeed, a part of this picture and a piece of this puzzle. Why? Because sports matter. They're rarely, if ever, just a game.

That's never more true than on the high school courts in Montana, where basketball bands together our entire state. Fans flock to gyms and arenas to support their teams and their kids. The winners and the final scores matter -- they end up preserved in the annals of history -- but that's not why we love basketball. We love basketball for what it means and what it represents. For some, it's the simple fun or competitive nature. For others, it's the life lessons learned on and beyond the hardwood.

But for all, it's the escape and the triumph. Basketball provides Montanans the opportunity to escape -- from life's mundane monotony, from emotional burdens, from the real world -- and celebrate triumphs, not only over our rivals but over hardships and adversity.

That's why sports matter in Montana and are an integral component ingrained into the fabric of American culture. We believe -- and many of us know firsthand -- that sports can change lives. There are lessons to be learned in practices and on road trips that can't be taught anywhere else. Those lessons ultimately mold us into the people we become.

As we continue to learn more about the novel coronavirus and its effects on all of us, sports have rightfully taken a backseat. But when we've beat this and sports return, it's going to be because of sports. We'll learn how to slow the spread and we'll get back to our normal lives. In that process, we'll inevitably use lessons learned on the courts and fields and tracks and courses -- lessons like teamwork and togetherness, dedication and determination, courage and compassion, and leadership and love.

We'll get through this. And when we do, sports will be there.

Because they're rarely, if ever, just a game.