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America is without a doubt, the world's sporting-est country.

Sports is generally about competing, improving oneself by competing with others who are doing the same. Americans have always been taken with this part of life, with the biggest, most and best programs in the world.

Americans started this country in a very unique situation. Being a country thousands of miles away from other westernized nations, this gave Americans freedom to do and try new things. This also gave rise to the individualism that has marked American history. Ordinary people doing extraordinary things, things that just could not be done or even allowed in the old world societies.

For example, although the United States did not invent or organize the modern Olympic Games movement, they completely dominated it from the first games onward. Their secret to doing so was bringing talented athletes from across the country regardless of their economic status in life. The early Olympic team from other countries were composed of the "elite" of their societies, not necessarily their most talented. This gave the U.S. a huge edge.

The 1936 Olympics in Berlin was dominated by track and field Jesse Owens, the son of a janitor, on the men's side, with Helen Stephens dominating the women's side of track with three gold medals of her own. Stephens was a member of a farming family in Missouri who was well acquainted with hard work and deprivation especially in the 1930s. They were both physically strong with equally strong character. Stephens was invited to spend the weekend with Hitler after the games to which she replied "thanks but no thanks."

So sporting events have been an integral part of American society in all manner of societal structures, from the poorest to the most wealthy.

From early shooting contests on the frontier, and the bare knuckle prize fights in our early days, to the advent of professional sports in the 1870s and the amateur sports in the 1890s, we have been a sporting nation.

Sports took a leap in the 1960s when President John F. Kennedy was concerned that American youths were getting soft and unfit, which led him to start the President's Council on Physical Fitness. That in turn led the United States Amateur Athletics Union to start up a national sports program which has grown into a gargantuan youth sports organization.

Sports has changed a lot in my lifetime. As a youth, I had the choice of playing Little League baseball as an elementary kid and we played 5-minute basketball games at the halftime of high school games. That was it. My kids had the choice of playing basketball, football, soccer, tennis, track, baseball, Taekwondo, golf, etc. Today's kids have even more choices that my kids had. Or least had those choices.

With the advent of the novel corona virus, all that changed. Professional sports are all on hiatus, with basketball and hockey likely done for the season with pro baseball freezing their season, canceling the remaining preseason games and putting the start of the 2020 season off indefinitely. Set to start mid April, no one knows when it will actually get underway.

The NFL draft set for this weekend in Vegas might be moved to an online event or postponed. The annual NFL owners meeting set for Vegas is also off.

Collegiate sports is gone for the spring season, and high school sports is on standby until mid April at which point they will be resumed or canceled outright, to my understanding. Off season training in the colleges is also off, with no spring football to prep teams for the fall season.

On the world scene, the 2020 Olympic Games, set to start July 20 in Japan are nearing a decision deadline. They could be delayed until later this year or they could be postponed to 2021. Or, like 1940 and 1944, cancelled outright.

President Trump likened himself to a wartime president, and it is rather like the 1940s all over again. Our nation will have to unify ourselves with all of us working together to get past this challenge. There have already been sacrifices expected of everyone and more will likely be required.

While community of Pea Ridge hasn't been touched by the novel corona virus in the form of the illness itself, we have been deeply affected in man other ways, both societal and economic. Someday, this will pass and we will have to re-evaluate and move on.

One of the greatest lessons of sports is how to handle adversity, how to reevaluate, and how to move on. Those attributes will serve us well in the days to come.

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Editor's note: John McGee, an award-winning columnist, sports writer and art teacher at Pea Ridge elementary schools, writes a regular sports column for The Times. The opinions expressed are those of the writer. He can be contacted through The Times at prtnews@nwadg.com.

Sports on 03/25/2020

Print Headline: Life without sports

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