Nutter: Savoring normal in extraordinary fall season in Tonganoxie
Years from now, when we tell our grandkids stories about 2020, “normal” isn’t a word we’ll toss around too frequently. March Madness ended before it started. The Olympics were put on hold for the first time ever. Everything from weddings to middle school gym classes were moved to Zoom. Election Day lasted roughly 90 hours, give or take a few.
When I arrived at Beatty Field for Friday’s playoff win against Lansing, I didn’t just watch my first Tonganoxie High football game of the season. I watched my first in-person sporting event of any kind in nearly a calendar year. In any other year, I’d have already been to a handful of Royals games, a Chiefs game or two and plenty of various K-State games, but not in 2020. To put it lightly, a small slice of normal under the Friday night lights felt long, long overdue.
Like it has for so many, this year has been one curveball after another for my family. Our 2-year-old daughter spent two nights in the hospital in February after a brief health scare. I made an unexpected job change in September. Oh, and in between, a pandemic turned the entire world on its head. When the Chieftains received the opening kick on Friday, it all went away, even if just for a few hours.
I’ve been able to stream several games this season (a rare 2020 addition I wouldn’t mind seeing permanently), so I wasn’t terribly surprised by what happened in the game itself. Tyler Bowden ran wild once again. Branden Martin led another stout defensive effort. This year’s Chieftains firmly solidified themselves as the best team in Al Troyer’s tenure, if not school history.
Perhaps more importantly, they ensured their town can look forward to at least one more night of normal this fall. In a year that’s been anything but, that might have been the biggest victory of the evening.
This week’s quarterfinal matchup with Bishop Miege could prove to be one of the premier games of the entire postseason. Tonganoxie is out for revenge after last year’s quarterfinal meeting, which Miege won on the way to its sixth consecutive state title. All that aside, in a season full of last-minute opponent changes, cancellations or even outright forfeits, simply having the opportunity to strap on a helmet in mid-November can’t be taken for granted.
For the record, I know there isn’t a soul in the THS locker room thinking about moral victories right now. If there were ever a team to end the Stags’ streak, this could very well be it. Those who attend or tune in Friday will see a state championship-caliber matchup between arguably the best two teams in Class 4A.
On behalf of your community, Chieftains, best of luck, and thanks for the little taste of normal.
— Nutter is a former Mirror sports editor who now resides in Overland Park.