Big Ten tourney kick started an arduous year

I was trying the other day to come up with a memory from one year ago, when the world we knew stopped because of a virus we knew little about.
And then from the other room, I heard the ESPN SportsCenter notification ringtone from my phone.
Da-da-da, da-da-da.
It reminded me of every time I heard that, starting on March 11, 2020, when I was on my way to Indianapolis for the Big Ten tournament.
Every notification that day was of more bad news.
The spread of the virus known as COVID-19 had been declared a pandemic.
The NCAA Tournament games played in Ohio would have to be without fans.
The Big Ten tournament wasn’t going to have fans.The NBA had positive COVID-19 tests, and would be suspending its season.
Nebraska coach Fred Hoiberg had been taken to the hospital at the Big Ten tournament, and his team was in post-game quarantine.
On and on and on that Wednesday night.
Da-da-da, da-da-da.
I finally put the phone on silent for the rest of the night. But I couldn’t stop thinking about the little things that day that were just as creepy.
The traffic reports from Chicago reported less than normal traffic in the middle of the day because offices had been shutting down that week.
Everywhere I stopped, hand sanitizer was readily available.
When I arrived in Indianapolis, I noticed the lack of traffic during rush hour on I-465, the busiest highway in the city.
The lobby in my hotel was empty — the clerk told me within an hour of the Big Ten’s decision not to have fans, the occupation rate for the weekend went from 100% to 20%.
I kept the phone on silent until the next morning. There were more notifications, I noticed, but the Big Ten tournament was still on. Iowa was playing that afternoon, so I headed to Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
Downtown was quiet — too quiet, it felt.
I got my credential, set up in the press room, and went to get lunch. The first game of the day was a few minutes away from being played.
I just sat down when someone walked by and held up his phone.
“We’re cancelled,” he said.
Da-da-da, da-da-da.
There would be a press conference in a few minutes, a guard told me.
“And then you’ve got an hour to get out of here,” he said.
Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren told us why he made the decision to cancel, and it was clear then that everything was shutting down.
I headed back to the hotel.
I filed a couple of stories, then packed up for the drive home.
The same clerk from the night before was at the desk.“
Sure you don’t want to stay for the weekend?” she quipped. “Plenty of good rooms are available.”
Da-da-da, da-da-da.
No NCAA Tournament. No spring sports for college teams. No Major League Baseball, NHL, PGA, NASCAR.
I passed the sign in Galesburg that said how long the wait was at the emergency room of the local hospital. It said 2 minutes when I drove by a few days earlier.
It said 35 minutes that night.
The suitcase I had packed for four days was heavy as I carried it up the stairs when I got home.
The news of the day had already exhausted me. It was only the beginning.
Da-da-da, da-da-da.
I shut my phone off for the rest of the night.
A long year was ahead.
John Bohnenkamp is an award winning sports writer/editor and is a regular contributor to Pen City Current

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