Remembering 9/11

There will be a good bit of commemorating around sports venues, with 9/11 falling on a Saturday this year. And I thought it would be worthwhile to think back to that first Saturday after 9/11 in 2001.

Nobody much wanted to think about sports in the days following those terrorist attacks, much less write about them. And faced with a Saturday unlike any we’d ever seen — with no games to report on a weekend day in early September — editors sent us out just to see what we could find, to report on what we saw.

The following two short pieces are what I saw that day, but they serve as a reminder of the mood in those days, and of how people felt collectively, the apprehension and uncertainty, as well as the determination. Things, frankly, that we should never forget.

The following were published on Sunday, Sept. 16, 2001:

U of L football practice

University of Louisville football players walked off their practice fields yesterday at about the time they should have been hearing the national anthem in the locker room before their scheduled game at Illinois.

“That’s where we wanted to be,” quarterback Dave Ragone said. “But it’s a tough time. There are a lot of people hurting. You’re not going to hear anybody out here complaining about a football game.”

Instead of a game, the Cardinals held a practice, their spirits lifted by an announcement Friday night that the Illinois game will be made up this Saturday in Champaign.

“There’s a sense that we’re getting on with things,” Ragone said. “Guys are starting to turn their thoughts back to football.”

But there was one moment in practice when everyone’s thoughts turned somewhere else.

For the first time since Tuesday’s terrorist attacks, the Cards saw an airplane fly over Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium and the practice fields. In unison, players who have become so used to planes flying in and out of nearby Louisville International Airport stopped what they were doing and looked to the sky.

The UPS aircraft flew on, and practice continued.

“It was a strange moment, but a perfectly normal reaction after all that has happened,” Ragone said. “They fly over pretty close, and you definitely look at them a little differently than you did a week ago. But then after that, we watched the plane fly off, and it was like everybody at once had the attitude of, ‘OK, let’s get down to business.’ We didn’t pay any attention to planes the rest of the day. It was a pretty focused day. To me, it’s good to get out here and think about football.

“We wanted to play because that’s what we do. We’re students and we kept going to school. It’s natural to keep wanting to play football, even when times are hard.”

Highland Youth Soccer League

They wore jerseys of all colors, bearing the names of countries like Mexico, Chile, Venezuela, Yugoslavia, Germany and Nigeria. But the games were here, at Atherton High School, and the kids of all ages are from the Highland Youth Recreation Soccer League.

These games went on yesterday. While the big leagues and colleges took the day off out of respect for the victims of Tuesday’s tragic events in New York City and Washington D.C., the children played on at sites around the city and country, in part so they wouldn’t feel like victims themselves.

This league, steering committee chairman Tom FitzGerald said, is less about competition than support and a desire to foster children’s development and sense of community.

“We decided for kids, particularly young ones but even some of the older ones, it’s very important to maintain a sense of normalcy,” FitzGerald said. “The kids feel powerless to do anything and are scared in a very undefined way. They know from their parents that something horrible has happened. But they don’t need to sit there and see it again and again and again.”

FitzGerald said the teams had the option of canceling practices Tuesday night after the terrorist attacks. Chris Haragan is one coach whose team did cancel.

“I think the kids wanted to practice,” Haragan said, “But we adults just couldn’t.”

When he asked his 9-year-old daughter, Anna, yesterday why she thought it was important to come out and play soccer, she responded, “Why not?”

To the same question, 9-year-old Joe Barrette chimed in, “Because we like soccer!”

Before going to the game yesterday, Joe’s mother, Patty Barrette, said she and her husband, Mike, read a quote from Eleanor Roosevelt published in yesterday’s paper: “You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, ‘I lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.’ ”

“We read that to Joe and talked about how it’s important to be stronger and move on.”

Referees asked for a moment of silence before each game yesterday. And FitzGerald said that, with a team of 15-18-year-olds on Friday night, he did even more. He interrupted a practice at 7 p.m. and gave each player a candle to join the national remembrance at that time.

They didn’t practice any more that night. But FitzGerald said the games will go on as long as there are children to play them.

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