By Ron Pesch
MUSKEGON–The Big Reds escaped with a narrow win over the Rockets at historic Hackley on Friday. Almost 252 months ago, they did the same. Tom Kendra tells me, in writing, Reeths-Puffer nearly beat No. 2-ranked Muskegon that night years ago. A late interception by Big Red Orlando Walton preserved a 13-7 win. Even though I know I was in the stands that night, I barely remember the game.
The contest was a diversion for me – luck in the normal course – as I suspect it was for many of the 4,000 people in attendance that night, and for thousands more attending games played in Michigan and beyond. A few days before, life in America had changed.
I was installing a new computer system at work on Tuesday morning when planes slammed into the World Trade Center towers in New York. An on-site consultant flagged me down and called me to the business owner’s office that morning. The television was on, as it often was, tuned to CNN. We were stunned, like many, trying to make sense of what had just happened. A plane had hit the north tower of the World Trade Center in New York. Was it an accident? Then a few seconds later we saw the second plane crash. Then comes the news of the attack on the Pentagon.
Most people of a certain age can tell you exactly where they were when they learned about Pearl Harbor or the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. And many people my age can tell you where they were when they learned about 9/11.
My sons were seven and four years old. I prayed that years would pass before they learned of the evil that lurked in the hearts of certain individuals.
For a week, much of the sports world was lost. Tuesday’s sports TV coverage, in many cases, went dark, shifting instead to streams about the only thing that mattered at the moment. Major League Baseball, in the final two and a half weeks of the season and facing competition scheduled for midweek, was forced to make an immediate decision. The sport, riding a massive wave of enthusiasm and hero worship sparked by the recent record-breaking performances of Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire, and now focused on the “achievements” of Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, was still a few years away. performance-enhancing drug tests. Commissioner Bud Selig had no choice but to cancel the games. Their postponement would extend the World Series until November.
Despite pressure from some owners to play, NFL Players Union representatives voted to cancel games scheduled for the upcoming weekend. That decision and concerns over lost revenue would ultimately force the league to move everything forward by a week, including moving the Super Bowl to February for the first time ever.
The NFL action would guide others.
Initially, the decision of whether or not to play major college-level football games was left to individual schools. This has changed.
“The swamp was silent on Saturday,” the Associated Press noted. “It was the same with the Big House, the Orange Bowl and the Rose Bowl. After Tuesday’s terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, top-tier college football canceled games this weekend, matching the NFL, major league baseball and most other sports.
The New York-headquartered NHL followed suit, canceling exhibition games and then working to create charitable efforts to support the families of deceased first responders — the nation’s newly recognized heroes.
Major League Soccer has canceled the remainder of its regular season. Davis Cup tennis matches in the United States have been postponed.
The Professional Golfers’ Association has canceled the $5 million World Golf Championship in St. Louis and other events. With air travel suspended, the Ryder Cup, between teams from Europe and the United States, played every two years and scheduled for the end of September, was rescheduled from 2001 to 2002 due to the attacks.
Locally, high school sporting events continued across much of the country. They served as first steps into routine and as a canvas of mourning and fellowship for children and adults. In Michigan, girls played tennis and basketball. The boys played soccer and football.
The importance and sacrifice of first responders, never more exposed than at Ground Zero during 9/11, took on new meaning in the days and weeks that followed. Moments of silence, touching musical performances, candlelit memorial services, a simple 9/11 fundraiser, and outward demonstrations of unity, patriotism, and red, white, and blue spread across the country. But so were cases of misperception, suspicion and ignorance.
A suggestion from the #2 guy in San Diego Padres PR suggested the team insert “God Bless America” in the seventh inning, and soon after, a new tradition was born in the stadiums of the MLB. Years later, he remains in some stadiums. Black armbands, helmet decals, crests, special uniform designs, and tribute contests immediately became part of the sport. They continue today, as do new policies, procedures and enhanced security measures, affecting everything from purchasing tickets, traveling to competitions, entering and moving around stadiums for players and fans.
While cleaning out a closet shelf recently, my youngest son came across this week’s Muskegon Chronicle headlines. I hid them almost 21 years ago. As a relatively new parent, I hid them from my children. As a historian, I have kept them as reminders of a moment in time. More than two decades later, they stand as symbols of lost innocence.
(Background photo courtesy of LSJ photographer Eric Sturr)