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In what now seems like a time long ago, baseball teams from Hunt High and Fike were scheduled to play on Fike’s Gilbert Ferrell Field on Thursday night.
The weather, unlike some of its previous spring predecessors, was again cooperative.
But high school athletics instead remained silent for the 27th consecutive day, held hostage by an enemy seen by only the most trained microscopes.
Stands were empty on the campuses of Hunt and Southern Nash. Another day, another shred of normalcy torn away. Perhaps this time, blue would appreciate being told to join the proceedings from behind the whistling winds of home plate.
However, there wasn’t total silence.
Taking the naked eye out of the equation, the faint buzzing of lights could be heard. The skylines of Lamm Road and Stanhope lit up Thursday night with a beacon of hope that perhaps someday, the COVID-19 pandemic can be silenced.
Started in Amarillo, Texas, by Dumas High School, the campaign that has borne the hashtag #BeTheLight was joined by Hunt and Southern Nash along other schools across the nation that have utilized social media to bring attention to it. Both the Warriors and Firebirds lit up their respective spring sports facilities. Southern Nash did it in solidarity with its counterparts at Rocky Mount, Northern Nash and Nash Central, using #lightupnash as its hashtag of choice.
Hunt athletic director Jon Smith turned the lights on for two reasons — one to check on the status of the Warriors’ facilities following a recent storm, and secondly, to send a message of hope to those spring athletes who have no way of regaining the lost time with another year of eligibility.
“It’s just a thing to let the athletes know we’re thinking about them,” Smith said. “I was telling somebody that you get this feeling about everything, but I did say when I went out there and turned the lights on, it was quiet. It hit a little bit different.”
It was the first chance for Smith to gaze upon Hunt’s facilities at night since the pandemic began. Previously, he was limited to mowing grass during the day.
“When you go out there at night and the weather’s been so good and you turn the lights on, and there’s nobody out there — and when Hunt and Fike play there’s a lot of people out there. It’s good for the kids, they love it. And the parents, and then anybody else that’s been a former player or a future player that comes out there and watches both schools complete. There’s a lot going on. It kind of hits you a little different. That’s what I was trying to picture. We went from having that, to this.”
Southern Nash athletic director Robbie Kennedy pitched the idea to his Nash County colleagues last Tuesday, with all four agreeing to take part.
Thanks to the work of drone photography from Firebird coaches, Southern Nash came away with aerial shots of its facilities for the de facto #lightupnash video, which was posted to the @firebirdsports Twitter account. Kennedy credited his wife, Crystal, with much of the editing.
“Number one, it was something that our community and our kids could see,” Kennedy said. “Number two, I thought it was good for our coaches to be able to go out there and work on our fields like it was a game. It was good for all of our county schools to know — we are one.”
As for Hunt, Smith divulged that if circumstances conspire to not allow spring sports to be resumed by the North Carolina High School Athletic Association in time for a proper Senior Night, he was considering a conversation with Fike’s Tom Nelson and Beddingfield’s Jody O’Neal to light up Wilson County’s fields on a single night in a similar show of solidarity.
“It’s one of those things that we want to be a part of,” Smith said. “But, we don’t want to be a part of.”
While social media can be utilized to push out messages of unity in unprecedented times, the cynics on these same platforms might respond by saying turning the lights on without sports is a waste on the electric bill.
Smith wasn’t about to entertain that conversation.
“The lights have been off so long, we’re saving money,” he said. “And honestly, for the time they were on (Thursday) night, I’d pay for them out of my pocket to turn them on.”