WOODY BASSETT: Pandemic relief

Hogs help deal with isolation, buoy state

In a fairly empty Bud Walton Arena surrounded by snow, the Arkansas Razorbacks basketball team defeated the Florida Gators on Tuesday night. Watching from home, it was the perfect antidote for brutally frigid temperatures, the winter doldrums and a lingering pandemic.

To the credit of many, starting with Athletic Director Hunter Yurachek, Razorback sports have continued to the extent possible during the course of the pandemic, though most fans could only watch on television. In the midst of a health crisis, sports may seem like the essence of a nonessential business, but playing football, basketball and baseball games during the pandemic has proven to have been a good decision. Doing so has offered people some semblance of pre-pandemic life, helped some contend with feelings of isolation and given people something else to talk about besides all that has ailed us and our country since March 2020.

It's not here yet, but an end is coming to the challenges we've endured and how we've had to live the past year. We will get there, reclaiming a better and more full life on the other side of this pandemic, never again taking anything for granted, looking for every opportunity to make up for lost time.

The thing we've missed the most is each other but there's so much else, things both big and small.

Where we live, one of the many things people have missed is being able to gather in large numbers in stadiums and arenas to watch the Arkansas Razorbacks play football, basketball and, soon, baseball games.

We need sports. Deeply ingrained in our culture, sports are a part of society's connective tissue, cutting across divisions. That's what the Arkansas Razorbacks do for the people of this state. They connect us.

Despite our differences and regardless of far more important matters in our country and in our own lives, following the Razorbacks gives us something we can all be for and enthusiastically support. The Razorbacks bring Arkansans together from every walk of life and from every part of the state, even if only on game day.

People yearn to see each other and do things together. We covet a sense of normalcy and community. We need our covid vaccine doses first and after that it won't be long before we can get a massive dose of something else we surely need--lots of human interaction and shared experiences like one can enjoy at a Razorbacks game.

As Razorback fans ride out the remainder of the pandemic, waiting until they can fill up the stands again, they can do so with high expectations for the future. There is much to look forward to in the seasons ahead.

With Sam Pittman, Dave Van Horn, Eric Musselman and Mike Neighbors at the helm of the four major sports programs at the University of Arkansas, Razorback athletics are in good hands. All four head coaches are good leaders, driven to succeed. They all play by the rules. All of them are tremendous recruiters. These coaches, each in their own way, are effective communicators. Surrounding themselves with high-quality assistant coaches, all four know how to teach and motivate their players. Each of them understands how to give their players an opportunity to reach their potential as players and people. These coaches all believe their teams can compete with anyone in America and win championships.

Endearingly, all four Arkansas head coaches understand what the Razorbacks mean to the state. They all want to be here. Arkansas is home for them. Each is one of us.

In his first year, Coach Pittman breathed new life into the football program, making the Razorbacks competitive again and restoring much-needed pride and hope in the players and fans. The future for Razorback football looks promising.

In his second year, Coach Musselman is building an outstanding basketball program, one that is excelling already and will only get better. The Razorbacks are back in the national conversation and will be a major force in college basketball for many seasons to come.

About to start his 19th year leading the Razorback baseball program, Coach Dave Van Horn is among the best college baseball coaches in the country. His record proves it. Year after year, his Razorback teams are highly successful, often ending up in Omaha to compete for a national championship.

In his fourth year, Coach Mike Neighbors has steadily built an increasingly strong and competitive Razorback women's basketball program. This year's team has already defeated Connecticut and Baylor, two of the top programs in the country.

If you are a Razorback fan, there's plenty to look forward to, now and in the future. Just think how much fun it's going to be to flood back into Reynolds Razorback Stadium, Bud Walton Arena and Baum-Walker Stadium to watch the Razorbacks play.

Woody Bassett is a lifelong Fayetteville resident and a local attorney. Email him at [email protected].

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