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Staff photo by Matt Hamilton / Riley Anand, left, paints the chest of Cameron Heilig before the start of Chattanooga Christian's home football game against Baylor on Friday night.

My oldest daughter attended her first high school football game of the season Friday night. She promises me she wore a mask. And socially distanced. And stayed away from the crowd, such as it was, as much as possible.

But it's what she said when she arrived home that stuck with me.

"It was nice," she said. "It was good to feel a little bit of normal, but it's still weird."

We have now staged three football Friday nights in the state of Tennessee. Georgia held its first this past week. And at least within the Volunteer State, each has seemed a wee bit more normal than its predecessor — the crowds a bit larger, or at least a tad bit less inhibited, the players executing their game plans better by the week.

A quick glimpse at a couple of college games Saturday afternoon offered similar insights.

Does all of it seem a bit weird? Absolutely. The commercial breaks on televised games seem twice as long as the action. If you tuned in Marshall's 59-0 rout of Eastern Kentucky, you saw coaches from both teams wearing masks. The stands had a few fans but less than 25% of capacity on a perfect Labor Day weekend.

But that just makes the world of sports a lot like everything else. The NBA remains in its Disney World bubble as it races through the playoffs, which have now reached the conference semifinals. Baseball is likewise continuing without fans. As is golf. And tennis at the U.S. Open.

Even the Kentucky Derby, which was delayed from the first Saturday in May to the first Saturday in September in hopes that fans might be allowed to attend by then, instead went on with no fans at Churchill Downs to watch Authentic gallop away with the 146th Run for the Roses.

Thankfully, "My Old Kentucky Home," one of the grandest traditions in all of sports, was hauntingly played by a single bugle, perhaps the most somber rendition of the Stephen Foster classic ever.

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Staff photo by Robin Rudd / Rhea County's band dances during Friday night's football game against visiting Walker Valley.

Do I think any of this restarting of human sports is smart or prudent, at least competing in front of fans or having young people play without adequate testing or quarantining? Not really.

Then again, I'm not the parent of a son who plays football at any level. If we've heard it once over the past few weeks, we've heard it a thousand times: The damage done to young people when sports is denied them is potentially far worse than them catching COVID-19.

And I get that. 1,000%. But young people aren't likely to get all that sick with the virus, and there is much evidence that when they do, the vast, vast majority bounce back quickly. The problem with the coronavirus is what it does to older folks, especially those with preexisting conditions such as diabetes or heart and lung difficulties.

As Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, told CNN as he detailed three COVID-19-related deaths and 147 infections that have occurred in that state due to a single wedding: "What we are dealing with is a giant tube of glitter. You open a tube of glitter in your basement, then two weeks later you are in the attic, and all you find is glitter and have no idea how it got there. That's what COVID-19 is like. You open up glitter in Millinocket (Maine), and next thing you know you are finding traces of it at a jail complex in York County. It's just emblematic of how quickly, silently and efficiently it can spread."

Quickly. Silently. Efficiently.

It has now rather efficiently snuffed out the lives of more than 185,000 Americans, infecting at least 6.2 million. In as sobering news as we've heard in months, one computer model out of the University of Washington projects a U.S. death total of from 410,000 to 600,000 by New Year's Day if the wearing of masks and social distancing are relaxed.

Even now, for all the guidelines major college football teams are following in an attempt to save seasons, the University of Tennessee only practiced instead of scrimmaging Saturday because 44 players were held out, a majority of them having either tested positive or having been linked to COVID-19 through contact tracing.

Said coach Jeremy Pruitt, whose Volunteers were originally scheduled to host Charlotte on Saturday before the Southeastern Conference elected for a league-only schedule that kicks off Sept. 26: "I'm really happy we didn't play today. If we had played today, we would have had a hard time beating anybody, so I guess that might be a blessing in itself."

Maybe it's a blessing things aren't worse. We want so badly for this to end that we've needlessly taken risks that could make it so much worse. In fact, one professor at Germany's University of Munster believes every step forward we take against the virus may leave us two steps behind over time.

"Virologists say there is no glory in prevention; if prevention is successful, people don't see the danger," Thorsten Quandt told CNN. "The irony is the less you can feel it and more successful you are with pandemic measures, the more people say we should stop (those preventive measures)."

We stopped on the Fourth of July, and we're still paying for it. We need to hope we are far less reckless this Labor Day weekend.

But regardless of how much life and sports have changed the past six months, my oldest daughter feels certain one thing has remained the same.

Already knowing her team got the better of the referees' whistle, I couldn't resist asking her how she saw the officiating.

Her smile becoming a frown, she said, "It seemed like (the other team) got all the calls."

It's nice to know we all have one thing we can count on in this year we seem unable to count on anything.

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Mark Wiedmer

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @TFPWeeds.

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