Bozeman Hawks runner

On an afternoon when the Bozeman High School track normally would be alive with the sounds of practice, a lone runner tries to keep fit for a season that may — or may not — come.

BOZEMAN — After grabbing some paper towels and hand soap — limit two —at an Ace Hardware a couple days ago, a shopper in the parking lot noticed the 406 MT Sports decals on the side of my car, paused and looked at me with an empathetic grin.

“Not much for you to do these days, eh?” he asked rhetorically.

I smiled. If I had a dime  …

“Welllll,” I finally responded, “no … and yes.”

It’s an understandable sentiment. Ever since last week family, friends, colleagues and readers have wondered aloud how our sports sections and 406mtsports.com will fare without, well, sports.

We are indeed amid a sea change unlike any in our corner of the newspaper business since World War II resulted in the cancellation of some, but not all, sports schedules in 1943.

Yet where some reflexively see a yawning chasm I see opportunity.

Sure, the games people play are gone for now. But the people who play them and the stories to be written about those same people aren’t.

As you’ve noticed over the past few days, the coronavirus’ impact on statewide sports is an ongoing story and will be for the foreseeable future. News of cancellation of high school and college spring sports, plus numerous other events, seems to be never-ending.

And consider, for instance, what this indefinite pause means at Montana and Montana State, where spring football was either abbreviated (UM) or canceled altogether (MSU). Yet the need to coach, recruit, plan and stay fit so as to remain competitive this autumn haven’t gone away.

Those subjects alone are plenty to keep our pages stocked with content, at least in the short term.

Take a look at 406mtsports.com and any of our print editions and you’ll see what I mean.

Further, an ongoing exasperation for sports writers has always been the inability to get to compelling rainy-day stories because those rainy days never seem to come.

Games. Breaking stories. Games. Advance stories. Games. Short features. Games.

It’s a cycle that lasts nine months and leaves precious little time for much content outside of our tried-and-true formula, except in the summer when we shoehorn regenerative vacations into the brief breather.

Now we have a rainy day that makes the sports shutdowns after 9/11 pale by comparison.

What to do beyond the news of the day?

As we necessarily look forward with coverage of coronavirus impacts, we can also look back — to the legends who played and coached the games, the myriad extraordinary events that occasionally put Montana on the national map, and more.

We can tell contemporary stories with more depth.

We can talk to the athletes who should be competing now but aren't. After all, what makes them tick doesn’t change just because they’re on the sidelines.

We can take a deeper dive into issues confronting athletes and teams. 

Montana is full of fascinating sports subjects that don’t require actual competition on the diamond, courts, golf course or track to tell the stories.

So there’s plenty to keep our staffs busy as we all maintain our social distance.

And with so many of you sequestered at home, sans live sports on TV, we're committed to putting appealing Montana sports content at your fingertips as you wait out this pandemic storm.

Given the demoralizing 24/7 news cycle, between the virus and our crashing 401Ks, now more than ever sports can provide an important escape — as they have throughout our history, whether during world wars, The Great Depression or the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attack.

As a long-ago parent of high school athletes, I ache for those whose careers are taking a forced hiatus, particularly seniors who were cherishing a final go-round with teammates. Perhaps, with proper public vigilance in the coming weeks, they’ll still enjoy abbreviated spring seasons, though my instincts tell me we’re sidelined for the long haul.

As a kid, I remember looking at historical records, noting entire seasons canceled in 1917 and 1943, and wondering if it felt surreal or destabilizing to those experiencing the upheaval of routines.

Now I know.

Even so, while we don't know how long live sports will be away, stories about sports will march on and we hope provide some sense of normalcy.

So yes, I said to the guy in the Ace Hardware parking lot, we won't have less — we'll just have different. With that, I thanked him for his concern and hopped in the 406 MT Sports mobile.

It was time to get to work.

Contact 406mtsports.com executive editor Jeff Welsch at jeff.welsch@406mtsports.com and follow him on Twitter @406sportswelsch.

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