As I sat down to write this column, the news had broken the Big Ten Conference had voted to reinstate its football season.
Reactions to this announcement tended to break one of two ways. One side thinks the University of Wisconsin and the other schools are putting revenue ahead of public health. The other side is ecstatic over the prospect of watching college football.
I’m as big a sports fan as anyone, but I find myself looking at this a third way.
What about the marching band?
While the debating and gnashing of teeth over the fate of college sports has been a steady rumble since the pandemic began, I have heard very few voices bemoaning the plight of music students, or the artists and theater students, either. The same is true of high school and professional activities.
Theaters, galleries, and concert halls are just as closed as Camp Randall or the fancy football field at the high school, but there seems to be no anguish or pity.
Having done both sports and theater in my youth, I can testify the theater kids work just as hard and devote as much if not more time to their activity as the athletes do, but with only a fraction of the fanfare.
It’s not right.
We could dedicate a weekend’s worth of television to the best high school theater groups, choirs and bands in the state. We do it for several team sports.
For that matter, when was the last time you saw a musician or actor featured on the local news broadcast? Sports gets its own slot every night at 6:20 and 10:20, including special segments with names like “Prep Mania.”
When you stop to think about it, there are probably many more opportunities to make money in adulthood from the arts than from sports, even if it is not a primary source of income.
Theaters need costume makers, set builders, and technicians as well as actors.
Museums need curators, directors and docents.
Newspapers, radio, television and movies need writers.
Every painting on the wall and song bursting through your earbuds was created by someone.
Meanwhile there are only 1,696 players in the entire National Football League. I’m sure if you add in coaches and people who work at the stadium you might add a few thousand more.
That’s really not many when you consider the obsession with the sport.
Verona has been a remarkably fertile ground for athletic success beyond high school and college, but you can count our professional athletes and Olympic medal winners on two hands.
Then remember we also produced Elton John’s piano tuner. A kid from my neighborhood was nominated for a Grammy a few years back, and his brother, a splendid musician in his own right, teaches percussion at the college level. A company that creates theater lighting started in a Verona garage. It employs dozens of people and ships its product all over the world.
Don’t forget our locals who play in garage bands, paint murals on buildings, and sell their art at fairs around the state and country. They might not be famous, but they are making money doing what they enjoy.
When was the last time you saw someone buy a ticket for a beer league softball game or rec league volleyball? People gladly pay for a night of local amateur theater.
I’m sure I’ve forgotten several dozen examples, and there are even more I don’t know about.
Most all of them are losing opportunities because of the pandemic.
The fall musical and several senior recitals are just as lost as the Homecoming game. Football will be played in empty stadiums, meanwhile charities and Internet fundraising pages are being set up to help musicians who can’t get gigs pay the rent and feed their families.
My columns these days are often composed over several days or even weeks, and as it turned out while I was working on this one it was decided the UW marching band will not perform at any football games this season. Concern about COVID-19 was the reason for this decision.
As you might guess, this doesn’t surprise me at all.