Normal is an eel of a word. It’s slippery and squirms and is hard to pin down. What’s normal for me is not normal for you. It’s normal for me to sit and read for a couple hours at a time, while normal for you might be a few hours playing “Call of Duty.” For the most part, normal is a matter of personal taste.

In the sense of the Maine high school sports world, we can agree that very little has been normal for almost a year. We are coming up on a year since a state champion was crowned in anything. There was no football season, and Friday the Maine Principals’ Association stopped hoping state officials would change their minds on the community sports guidelines that categorize wrestling as high risk, and cancelled the high school wrestling season.

Despite those disappointments, there are signs things are changing for the better. We have tournaments! This week, central Maine teams will compete in basketball and ice hockey tournaments. In basketball, boys and girls tournaments divided into two divisions, Class A/B and Class C/D, will play a win or go home tournament to determine champions in the Kennebec, Somerset, and Franklin county region. A six-team boys ice hockey tournament, with all games at the Camden National Bank Ice Vault, will also begin. That will be a round-robin format, with two divisional winners meeting on March 12 for the title. The Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference and Mountain Valley Conference will hold championships in Alpine and Nordic skiing this week, too.

It’s been a short, unnormal winter sports season, but games and meets with a championship at stake are a step toward normal, and a sign we just might be turning a corner on this pandemic. This is nothing but good news on a weekend that would have been a weekend of state championship basketball games. We can’t fill the Cross Insurance Center, Augusta Civic Center, or Cross Insurance Arena with basketball-crazy fans yet. We can’t pack the Androscoggin Bank Colisee with hockey fans. But we can play games in almost empty high school gymnasiums and local rinks and put more at stake than the simple act of playing

For many students, having a season of any type was a release. Basketball or ice hockey or skiing or indoor track or cheering or whatever, sports provided the same thing they always do. A chance to escape from a world that’s always trying to knock you down. A chance to spend a few hours with your friends doing something you love. Still, you want something on the line more than pride. You compete to compete for something. These regional tournaments are a nod to that. They’re an acknowledgement that even in a painful, odd time, we can still find something normal. Something common.

Better things are coming, and they start with these small tournaments.

None of this happens without the hard work of many athletic directors and coaches who worked behind the scenes to make these events happen. They see the work student-athletes put in every day, showing up for their athletics to take refuge from school days that are slapped together like a puzzle missing half the pieces.

These tournaments are going to be fun. They’ll feature matchups we never see. Teams from different conferences and classes playing each other, sometimes for the first time. Let’s enjoy it, and let’s not call it the end of the winter season. Let’s call it the start of reclaiming a little sense of normalcy.

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