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The Jordan Center Empty, Rec Hall Quiet And Pegula Locked: A Surreal Afternoon Amid A Season's Abrupt End

by on March 12, 2020 6:00 PM

Lamar Stevens looks like he has seen a ghost.

It’s not even all that cold outside. In fact it’s a rare sunny, almost balmy March afternoon in State College, but Stevens is wearing a coat, his hood pulled over his head to hide from everything.

He drags a bag behind him, wheels thumping off the pavement, the backpack draped on his shoulders equally full to the brim as he and a few teammates stumble towards a large truck and get inside.

Myreon Jones leaves on his own, making the long walk up the driveway and out of the loading area. Jones’ teammates are not far behind, Seth Lundy hugging a staffer with tears drying on his face, Izaiah Brockington stunned, Curtis Jones Jr. still coming to terms with the end of his collegiate career.

They all file out in a daze, all except coach Pat Chambers who leaves from a different door, hat tightly on his head, his hands swiping through his phone. He gets into his Jeep, driving off into the afternoon with purpose, even if the day’s events leave him unsure of what that purpose might be.

There are also two fans standing outside the door the team is leaving from. They’ve been there for an hour or so ever since the NIttany Lions made their return from Indianapolis. In reality they've been here for years, over a decade of fandom and ticket ownership to their names. Penn State was supposed to be playing somewhere else tonight, Stevens was supposed to be dragging his suitcase across the hotel floor of an NCAA Tournament regional in a week or two. The Nittany Lions had hit restart. They were supposed to be finishing a historic season with a run. They were going to deliver fans a tournament berth for the first time in a decade.

They were supposed to. But they won’t.

Because as Dallas Mavericks’ owner Mark Cuban said on Wednesday night, life is half random, and the spread and uncertainty surrounding the COVID-19 virus has crashed down all the things that people expected to see this March. There will be no March Madness, at least not in its usual form. And after a decade of clawing and trying and losing and winning and trying again, there will be no Penn State basketball in the NCAA Tournament. There will be no tournament at all.

Across the parking lot Panzer Field is empty. There will be no national title for the former No. 1 men’s lacrosse team. Across the road Pegula Ice Arena is locked, a sign on the door telling any who may pass that there will be no business done here today.

And no Big Ten Tournament semifinal this weekend. No NCAA Tournament regional in Allentown.

Farther away Rec Hall is empty. There will be no national wrestling championship tournament in Minneapolis next weekend. Campus is a ghost town. Nothing is how it was supposed to be. It was, as Kanye West once said, all good just a week ago.

In truth, it probably wasn’t. As the nation comes to grips with a spreading pandemic it will also catch up with testing numbers and cases that were otherwise undetected until those services became available. More people will die — sports is already secondary to that fact because sports are just sports, and it will feel increasingly secondary until things are normal again.

All the same, there is a sadness in the abruptness of the end. Every season has its conclusion, but you can see that coming on the horizon. Every game has a winner and a loser and the likes of Lamar Stevens, Mark Hall, Grant Ament and Brandon Biro have been on both sides of that column.

The sadness wafting around State College comes from a lacking finality. There will be no tournament, or a myriad of other events, and without doubt life will go on and sports will come back. They have ended for now, not forever.

But there also will be no goodbyes and no thank you, at least not for a while, and nothing close to the closure thousands of seniors across the country had hoped to see so many months ago.

Sports may not be the most important thing happening in the world right now, or ever, but as Lamar Stevens leaned his head on the passenger side window and his college career’s final stages slipped through his fingers, the dreams he spent four years turning into reality became dreams again. And there's a sadness in that too.



Ben Jones covers Penn State football and basketball for StateCollege.com. He's on Twitter as @Ben_Jones88.
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