My feet hurt. My mind churns.
Behold a new regular walker’s reality in this nascent COVID-19 Age. Painful and blissful, with every step.
I approach a neighbor walking a dog on a sidewalk. The neighbor notices me from a safe distance and scurries, obedient pet in tow, to the other side of the street.
A cold move? No. A necessary, “social distance” move.
The dog owner waves.
Which got me thinking: What will become of the handshake? Remember that gesture? What will become of the high five and the exuberant hand slap in sports? Will they join the handshake and become things of the past, like dinosaurs, dodos, and disco balls?
I cover high school girls tennis in the fall and high school boys tennis in the spring. After practically every point in a doubles match, partners connect—via hands, in a variety of ways—to either celebrate a good shot or lift the spirits of the partner who had made an error.
Then there’s the post-match handshake at the net. Would that long-standing act become history, too, if authorities allow prep sports to begin this spring?
Humans have been urged to avoid hand-to-hand contact with others because of coronavirus concerns.
“I don’t want to see the handshake disappear, especially in sports, because I’m big on sportsmanship—always have been,” says Scott Gilbert, a special education teacher and assistant varsity boys tennis coach at Lake Forest High School.
“Sportsmanship is important to me,” he adds. “It’s a way to show respect for your opponent and for the game. We had to do a lot of elbow bumps in tryouts before the schools shut down.”
Elbow bumps. I think of those during a recent walk. I also think, “Wait, would those be safe if a player happens to be suffering from … tennis elbow?”
Gilbert, a 1985 Highland Park High School graduate, misses being around his Scouts, or, in his words, “my guys, the guys I intend to stay in touch with for years after their graduation.”
As of March 30, the Illinois High School Association (IHSA) hadn’t scrubbed spring sports. Hopeful news, indeed. The organization might devise plans to extend postseason state series. The Fourth of July falls on a Saturday this summer. A boys tennis state meet usually ends on a Saturday in late May. Attend a patriotic parade in the morning and the singles and doubles state finals in the afternoon this year?
Maybe. Who knows?
But Mike Friedman, a tennis teaching pro at A.C. Nielsen Tennis Center in Winnetka and a former boys tennis coach at Deerfield High School, certainly knows what he misses.
“My clients at the club, along with my coworkers,” says Friedman, a 1984 Highland Park High School graduate who guided Deerfield’s Warriors to a state championship in 2005. “I miss going to work, developing friendships, and laughing. I miss just having … a routine.
“But because of what we’re all going through now,” he adds, “I appreciate what I have, each and every day. I used to be a work-first guy. Now, during this waiting game away from work, I’m making the most of every day with my loved ones. Right now I’m watching John Wayne in The Shootist with my mom [Betty]. I cherish time with my mom more than ever.”
The last time Friedman hit a tennis ball was in mid-March, early afternoon, during an hourlong indoor lesson at Nielsen.
“Oh, yeah. I remember that moment,” says the gregarious-since-birth Friedman, whose son, Billy, is a senior varsity tennis player at Grant Community High School in Fox Lake. “March 12, a little before 1 p.m. I fed a ball to a woman at the net. She hit a forehand-volley winner. Great shot. What a great shot.”
Friedman sees himself giving “air” high fives instead of loud high fives to clients until the world gets the ALL CLEAR.
“A lot of racket-to-racket taps, too,” says Friedman, named the 2019 United States Professional Tennis Association’s Top Education Earner for having amassed the most continuing education credits (179.5) in 2018. “It’s unfortunate, the fear a lot of us are experiencing. People are anxious, unhappy. My son is antsy; he wants to be able to run around on a tennis court again.”
Gilbert, meanwhile, yearns to coach up his Scouts in practices and at meets again. Yearns to interact with them off the court again; dine with them after satisfying wins again; and spend some quality, laughter-filled time with them in the school’s Commons area again.
“The thought of our seniors potentially not being able to play one more season for a great school like Lake Forest High School and for an outstanding tennis program like ours … that hurts me, truly hurts me,” Gilbert admits. “It would also hurt if our school couldn’t hold a graduation ceremony this spring. But I refuse to lose hope. I keep in touch with my guys, my captains, every day.
“I believe we’re going to get to compete at some point this spring.”
The spring in my step during the middle of another walk downshifts on a windy day, as I notice yellow tape trembling around the playground area of a park. Crime-scene tape, where kids congregate and scream joyously? No, please, no. I near the area. There’s one word, printed dozens of times, along the yellow tape: CAUTION.
The fun part of the park is closed, indefinitely, because of you know what.
I continue to walk. I shake my head.
Blocks from home, I look to my right and see a large pillow resting against the inside of a house’s window.
It’s a red, heart-shaped pillow.
My step returns to spring-mode.