Coach Paul Riley

PAUL RILEY, the North Carolina Courage's head coach, guides his club during a training session on June 23. Riley, who is in his fourth season with the Courage (along with one other season with the Courage's predecessors, the Western New York Flash), has gotten North Carolina off to a 4-0 start in the NWSL's Challenge Cup following its 2-0 win on Monday night over Sky Blue FC.

Three months and 23 days.

Since March 13, no athletic events or workouts involving Wilkes County high school teams have taken place.

But that all ended on Monday, which was the first day fall sports teams could conduct workouts in preparation for the fall 2020 season.

There are still concerns about whether the seasons will begin on time (the Atlantic Coast Conference announced Thursday morning each of its fall Olympic sports will delay the start of competition until at least Sept. 1), but Monday’s workouts were a step toward returning to play.

My Monday morning began around 7 a.m. as I woke up to head to West Wilkes to get pictures of its workouts and speak with Philip Collett — the Blackhawks’ new head football coach.

Upon arriving in Millers Creek, I was greeted by something different, but what might become a requirement for admission to athletic events — a temperature check.

Eric Maggio, West Wilkes’ athletic trainer, came by, took my temperature to make sure I was healthy and then asked me if I was experiencing any potential symptoms, anything ranging from vomiting to not having a sense of taste.

My temperature was normal and I wasn’t suffering from any of those.

With my mask on (which is a must if you’re going to be in public), I made my way to the practice field and there were kids running sprints with masks on, doing kettlebell lifts and doing many things they would be doing in the weight room — except they’re prohibited from using the actual weight room.

When I left Millers Creek to head to my next destination, I said to myself, “man, it feels good to be back out there.”

It had been quite some time since I covered any sort of live event involving high school teams since that Thursday in March when I found out games had been suspended.

I still remember being at East Wilkes that night covering the Cardinals’ softball game against South Caldwell and this dark feeling being in the atmosphere — a feeling of uncertainty.

Each school that I went to on Monday (East Wilkes elected to start its football workouts on Thursday evening) did its workouts a little differently, but one thing was constant — safety was the No. 1 priority. And it should be.

While safety should be the priority (and continue to be), Ron Turner, Wilkes Central’s head football coach, may have had the most telling comment that I got from the three head football coaches I spoke with on Monday.

“Hopefully, it’s made our kids appreciate it,” Turner said about being away from sports.

“The spring can be hard, that’s a grind. Kids are tired in the springtime, but hopefully they’ve missed it and are excited to be back out there. Hopefully, they’re as excited to be back as the coaches are.”

The resumption of high school workouts is following the lead of professional sports attempting to return to action.

One league that sports fans may not know much about, the National Women’s Soccer League, has already returned to action.

While it may not get the same publicity as professional male sports leagues, the NWSL was actually the first professional team sports league to resume actual games when it began almost two weeks ago.

The teams of NWSL are currently competing in the Challenge Cup in Herriman, Utah, but with no fans in the stands.

Members of the team when they were on the pitch didn’t have to wear masks, but players on the bench had to.

The league boasts players who are also members of the uber-successful United States National Women’s Soccer Team, as well as many other players who have represented their home countries in the World Cup.

The North Carolina Courage played in the first game on June 27 and are currently 3-0-0 and lead the eight-team field.

Having had the opportunity to cover the Courage back in 2017, I’ve been following them and their success (three-straight NWSL shield championships, which is given to the best regular season team, and back-to-back NWSL cup championships) over the last few years, it’s nice to see them and the sport get some national exposure (their opener was on CBS while the others have been on CBS all-access) at a time where sports fans are longing for live sports.

Major League Soccer action in the MLS is back. Tournament began Wednesday night and Major League Baseball, National Hockey League and the National Basketball Association are scheduled to return to play in couple of weeks.

As these leagues return, all of which will be without fans, they’ll be closely dissected. But one thing is for sure, it’s good to see live team sports back, no matter the form.

The commentator at the beginning of Wednesday night’s MLS telecast may have summed it up best — “we will not be going back to normal; we’re moving forward.”

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