The Fans Are Back!

by Dale Reeves
Story Pastor

Several months ago, I wrote about the interesting phenomenon that took place this past year in sports because—due to COVID-19 restrictions across our country and our world—fans weren’t able to attend games in person. If you missed that blog, you can check it out here.

In my opinion, it is the reason several of the blue bloods in college basketball have struggled this year, particularly with no “home crowd advantage.” Basketball powerhouses such as the Duke Blue Devils and Kentucky Wildcats have lost home games they would never have lost in a typical season had their rabid fan bases been present for the games. Several sports broadcasters have commented on how giving the play-by-play coverage for games has been more difficult than they thought it would be because sometimes things are taking place on the field or the court that are not caught on camera. They have talked about how much they have missed seeing these peripheral things that contribute to the whole telecast.

Well, guess what? As more people in our country have been getting vaccinated, more states have loosened some of the restrictions on fan attendance at games. NCAA March Madness and the annual bracketology discussions are just around the corner even as central Indiana and the city of Indianapolis prepare to host all 67 games in the basketball tournament that will determine this season’s champion. And, I have noticed fans in attendance in major league baseball’s spring training games. As a matter of fact, I was just a wee bit envious this past week as I saw one of my Facebook friends, a missions pastor, attending a Cincinnati Reds spring training game in 70-degree weather in Arizona. And, if that wasn’t enough, he was eating cheese coneys from Skyline Chili that are served at Goodyear Ballpark.

We Need to Feel Again
This past Sunday, sports columnist Paul Daugherty wrote in the Cincinnati Enquirer:

“When Governor DeWine decreed Great American Ball Park could host up to 30 percent capacity this season—that’s 12,696 fans a game—it wasn’t simply another nudge back toward normal. It was an act of faith from someone who recognizes an essence of our city. . . . Sports aren’t meant to be solitary. Joy needs partners. Nothing defines pro sports in our town quite like communal suffering. We’re all in this together. Except for 2020, when we were all in it apart. Tethered to the TV-radio wavebands, in semi-solitary confinement. Multiple communities of one.”

“Players have felt it, across the board. Reds outfielder Nick Castellanos put it as well as anyone, during a Zoom call from Goodyear, Arizona. People asked him last summer how he liked playing in Cincinnati. ‘I don’t really know, man. I haven’t felt the city yet. I don’t know what it sounds like.’ . . . We want to feel again. That sentiment goes way beyond sports. Quarantines and lockdowns and living behind masks have induced in us a sort of spiritual numbness.”

Twelve thousand fans at Great American Ball Park isn’t utopia, but we’ll take it. It’s a start. I would agree with Doc that I’ve seen a lot of people this past year who are spiritually numb. Yes, we need to feel again. And, yes, it is time to come back to church, come back to the physical gathering of the body of believers that gather to worship our God together as one.

Gathering as One
As the fans are returning, the intensity of play on the court and the field is heating up. While watching a few college basketball games the other day, I noticed a decided difference in the crowd noise vs. the piped-in fake crowd noises we heard last year. We are so blessed as a church to have online church services that can be streamed in people’s homes, where families can get up on a Sunday morning, eat breakfast together, and do church while they’re still in their pajamas. But singing at home is just not the same as the “crowd noise” we experience when the whole body of Christ comes together for worship.

When we congregate for worship, even though we may come from a diversity of spiritual backgrounds, socio-economic statuses, and racial differences, we know that we have gathered together for one thing—to unify our voices in praise to our God.

The apostle Paul said, For you are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus. And all who have been united with Christ in baptism have put on Christ, like putting on new clothes. There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:26-28, NLT).

He also challenges the church with these words: “Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace. For there is one body and one Spirit, just as you have been called to one glorious hope for the future. There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all, in all, and living through all” (Ephesians 4:3-6, NLT).

Sharing Joys and Sorrows
I grew up in a family that was serious about college basketball. What else would you expect from grandparents and children from Maysville, Kentucky, who have bled blue all their lives? As a matter of fact, my Aunt Norma Thurman, at 92 years of age, is still a die-hard fan. She made the news in Indy this past week because she wrote to a news station and wanted one of the “March Madness” facial masks they were distributing. Check out this rock star here.

Well, I haven’t carried on the tradition of rooting for UK like my mom, her family, and my in-laws (who were also from Kentucky), but I faithfully follow the UC Bearcats, who have also had their share of challenges this year. What about you? Which team colors do you wear? If you participate in filling out a bracket for the NCAA’s big dance either with your family, friends, or coworkers, how do you choose the teams you think will win? By their colors, by their mascot names, by their geography, or some other secret method?

Just in case you will be filling out brackets for this year’s March Madness, I offer the following for your consideration:

  1. Since all games will be played in and around Indianapolis for this tournament, you may want to lean favorably toward midwestern teams that won’t have to travel as far this year.
  2. Teams that are loaded with fantastic freshmen may not be as seasoned this year because of not getting to play a preseason schedule, and missing some of their games due to COVID-19 protocol.
  3. Look for great point guard play and senior leadership. (This is true every year!)
  4. Remember that it is possible for a 16-seed to beat a 1-seed in the first round of the tournament. Just ask the Virginia Cavaliers.
  5. This may be the year due to more blue bloods not performing well when several mid-major colleges will be putting on Cinderella’s glass slipper for the big dance, and a chance to wind up in the Final Four.

There you go, don’t say I never gave you something for nothing! Regardless of who wins this year, I am so glad the fans are back. We are meant to be in community to share in the joys and sorrows that come from rooting for our favorite teams, whether that is on the court, on the field, or in the church building.

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