The Jordan High School football team takes the field on Friday, Aug. 19, 2021. Photo by Stephen Dachman.

The high school football season opener at Jordan High School last week was one of the most rewarding sports experiences of my life.

It had been 685 long days since the Panthers last hosted and won a football game on their campus in North Long Beach, and they returned with a bang by edging Kennedy High 47-46 in overtime.

“I haven’t been in a big game like this in a long time,” Jordan coach Tim Wedlow said. “This is good to have a win like that—it helps our school and our community. Everybody—even me. I thought I’d have a heart attack tonight.”

It certainly wasn’t your average victory. The game had some incredible highlights on the field as junior Damian Henderson turned in a star performance, with a rushing touchdown, a kickoff return for a touchdown, a sack, a fumble recovery, and an interception before the Panthers defense stopped Kennedy on the last play of the game.

Seeing the Jordan players flood the field to celebrate in front of a quality crowd that included a band, a drumline, and cheerleaders was like getting a B12 shot of optimism.

“I can’t even tell you what it means to me and to my team,” Jordan quarterback Makhi Travis said.

The thing I will remember most about the night is all of the smiles we saw before, during and after the game. Obviously, North Long Beach was hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic and this is just the start of returning back to a more “normal” school year. But now those kids can talk about the game and other campus activities while they’re walking the halls from class to class instead of doing so in a Zoom meeting.

That new reality really hit me while the team captains and coaches came to midfield for the overtime coin toss. We’ve lost so much time to a pandemic we can’t control, and these kids deserve to get it all back. To me that means we need to appreciate everything, no matter how small it is.

I was able to have that moment of clarity because I wasn’t alone. Usually, Mike Guardabascio and I are spread out working different high school football games. However, the Jordan game was the only one in town that night so we covered the game together. It’s how we started covering high school sports together in 2008 and it was a welcome reminder of why we got into this line of work.

In fact, I was actually days away from starting a job as an assistant coach for Jordan football under Scott Meyer back in 2008 when I decided to start writing local sports with Mike instead. So, to be standing on the same field when I made that life-changing decision while we celebrated the return of something we love so much really brought the last decade and a half together into a single moment.

How many things could’ve gone differently?

We’ll never know that answer, but while I was on the field soaking up the atmosphere I realized how grateful I am that the journey has made the destination that much more rewarding.

Of course I wish that COVID-19 never happened, that games weren’t in danger of being canceled. But I have to believe we’re all better for these experiences, and the sweet is never quite as sweet without the sour.

We as a sports community need to appreciate all of the little things now more than ever because we don’t know how long it will last.

My first week of 2021 football coverage was bookended perfectly the next night as I covered the Wilson home opener where Scott Meyer is starting his first season at his alma mater. The Bruins suffered a lopsided defeat to visiting Warren, but Meyer was able to take a wide-angle view of the experience.

“It felt much more normal than those spring games because the first game in the spring felt really weird,” Meyer said. “It’s August, the band was here with the cheerleaders and a pretty solid crowd for the first time out. It’s good to be back on Friday nights in the fall.”

As a reminder of how quickly things can still change, a few days later a positive test in Wilson’s program threatened to cancel their second game of the year, scheduled for this Saturday. Still, I agree wholeheartedly with Meyer’s sentiment. It’s good to be back doing anything, and we should appreciate those moments while they’re here.