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               Matt Harris

 

FULL COURT PRESS

Paying the Price

 

By Matt Harris

Staff writer

11-5-2020

 

Except for Zoom stock investors, mask companies, and people who really wanted to watch The Office on Netflix for the seventh time, no one has had it easy in dealing with the pandemic that swept the globe in a matter of months.

The real problem since the early onset of the pandemic, however, has not been so much the aggressive spread of the contagion. More frustrating than that are the various organizations that sought so hard to return to normal that they shot themselves in the foot in the process.

When fall sports got the green light from the Utah High School Activities Association (UHSAA), it was surprising, even if not a shock. Utahns are already some of the most shutdown-defiant in the country, and in the most literal way, God forbid taking away our sports.

COVID-19 barely made sporting events less accessible to the general public, but because of the UHSAA’s own mismanagement, and as I would learn about on a bitterly cold Monday night, those same events became much more difficult for the press.

In order for me to attend high school sporting events, the UHSAA requires I wear a press pass; not one provided by the Messenger, but printed and provided by the UHSAA themselves.

Earlier in the summer, as our staff geared up for the sudden onset of the fall sports season, we placed our order of passes for the staff, including myself despite my primarily remote-working status. It wasn’t until after our order was placed that the UHSAA informed us that we would not be required to have passes this season, due to the suddenness of the season being approved. Bear in mind it was the UHSAA themselves that made the decision to have the season start.

We would later find out, as was reported to me by Messenger publisher Suzanne Dean, that the UHSAA had turned back on that decision nearly a month after the start of the football season. Having our order of passes already submitted, we patiently waited for them to arrive.

If you’re reading this editorial on its publishing date, we still don’t have them.

Many of the less-trafficked events, such as volleyball or cross-country, are no big deal to get in and out of without the proper identification. I can even get in a few early season football games if I want to press my luck. Events like last week’s 3A Girls’ Soccer State Championship game between Manti and Morgan, however, are a totally different story.

I arrived at the stadium nearly 40 minutes early, ready to explain my case to anyone who needed to hear it in order to get the access. I spoke to no less than four different stadium representatives and one representative whom I was told was for the UHSAA. The UHSAA representative, a middle-aged woman with a black mask, blocked my access to anywhere outside of designated fan sections, censured me for not having a pass, and asked that I get my editor or publisher on the phone. It took me all of 15 seconds to get someone on the phone, and it was enough time for her to disappear and not come back. I was never told at any time during the event that a press box even existed, much less directed to it.

Needing to have my laptop computer plugged in for a game nearly two hours long, I was guided by a stadium representative to a section nearly 40 yards away from anyone else, and with gloved hands in below freezing temperatures (a low of 15 degrees that night), I watched, shivered and typed.

At the end of a hard-fought loss for Manti, I realized that Manti’s buses were on the far side of the stadium, with no chance of me getting close without any access. Frantically trying to find whatever UHSAA representatives had been avoiding me all night, I merely happened upon a professional friend, Deseret News sports reporter James Edward. It was James who ended up supplying a spare pass to me so that I could run like a man possessed to the parking lot and interview Coach Eleshia Steinfeldt before the bus hit the gas back to Manti.

As I returned the spare pass to James, he told me at that time that the Deseret News staff, the premier print news source of the entire state, had gotten their passes less than two weeks before the title game. It became clear to me that I had been hassled by the UHSAA all night for a pass that, in truth, most news outlets in the state had not yet received due to the association’s own failure to provide them.

As I left and got back into my car that night, my frozen hands gripping my steering wheel, I couldn’t help but wonder why the UHSAA’s own failure of punctuality, their mistake, was grounds for the ostracization of a single reporter driving from Ogden to do a simple job. If a laminated 3×5 card worth a few pennies is all the difference to believe the validity of a reporter whose five-year body of work is online and available to reference, it would be absolute nonsense to think that there should be any difficulties or delays in providing that critical little postcard.

I can only hope I’m able to wear a pass around my neck in the next few weeks as the winter season kicks off prep hoops. I’d loathe to be wearing the glares of another UHSAA rep instead.