Last Friday night I did something I haven't done in quite some time — go to a live sporting event with a crowd in attendance. No, it wasn't an NHL or MLB game with thousands of people there. It was a junior hockey game with about 200 people in attendance, but it still felt special, different, like it really mattered.
Watching football on Sundays and hearing the roar of a stadium full of fans, after getting used to games with no crowds at all a year ago, is the same as being at a Fort St. John Huskies and Dawson Creek Kodiaks hockey game. While I didn't quite get used to watching Huskies or Kodiaks games with no fans — unfortunately there were no games at all — it did bring back a vivid rush of memory of going to the rink every Friday and Saturday night, and being around people who were loud, happy, and there to take in the game together.
I experienced a bit of that this summer. Slow pitch saw the usual amount of supporters in the bleachers, and the Taylor Speedway and Northern Lights Raceway had more fans than they have in years, or at least it felt that way. But seeing fans in an indoor setting feels like another checkpoint on the path to normalcy.
I'm aware that it's a bit ironic to be writing this at the present moment. Vaccine mandates and ever-present Covid restrictions (and news of case numbers) can make it seem all for naught and that the rules are about to revert back to no fans, or no sports at all, at any moment. And that may be the case, though I hope it's not. Regardless, the fact that the first sizeable indoor sports crowd I've experienced in a year happened after the vaccine card came into place feels promising.
You can go to the rink on a Saturday morning and take in a game with families present to cheer on their kids in a way that did not happen a year ago. Soccer kicked off in Fort St. John last weekend, and though parents were masked and spaced apart they were still there and able to cheer on their kids' every moment on the pitch.
I'm beginning to remember that going to the Memorial or North Peace arena on a Friday night along with a couple hundred friendly faces used to be the norm, and will be again someday. I can't wait for more of these experiences — when the the swimming pools are packed with onlookers during a meet and there's nowhere to walk that won't get your socks wet, and when a volleyball tournament has the extra buzz of school pride from the crowd that these events almost always have.
Until then, I'll enjoy each sporting moment I'm able to take in with other fans, all while realizing that there are many other community members unable to be there or who are choosing not to. Fans still matter, regardless if they are at a Toronto Blue Jays game helping to push their team to a wildcard playoff berth, or at a NWJHL Junior B hockey game.
Email sports reporter Dillon Giancola at email@example.com