Sunset Pool

Sunset Park and Recreation District, 1140 Broadway.

There’s a moment when everything changed.

For me, that moment was actually a four-hour stretch of time that occurred on Wednesday, March 11.

In the months and years to come, it will be recalled as an instant and I’ll likely remember that it felt like a surge of water gushing out of a pipe that could not be turned off, regardless of how hard anyone tried.

Around 4:30 p.m., the NCAA Tournament, aka March Madness, announced that their annual basketball tournament would go on, but would do so without the presence of fans.

I was fully anticipating the change in the viewing experience for the tournament, which is one of my favorite sports events each year. With imagined fondness, I thought of how strange it would be to officiate a game that didn’t feature spectators telling you everything that you did wrong.

Hours later, an awkward and unprecedented experience occurred on an NBA court in Oklahoma City where the scheduled game was postponed just seconds before tip. Two players in that game, so far, have tested positive for the coronavirus.

Later that evening, the NBA announced that it had postponed its season, as did the majority of the rest of college and professional sports events.

The Oregon State Athletic Association canceled all the winter sport championships that hadn’t already occurred. And less than a day later, March Madness was completely gone as well. It all happened so quickly and, for most of us, without any models existing of something like this previously occurring.

Perhaps it’s insight into who I am, or my interests, that it was during those moments, that the serious nature of this situation became unapologetically evident. Life was changing.

Following the decisions of the sporting world decision makers across the world, the next few days would be some of the most turbulent and rapidly evolving of any in most people’s memory.

When Governor Kate Brown announced that all K-12 schools in Oregon would close late Thursday night, the decision for agencies like the Sunset Empire Park and Recreation District got a lot more complicated.

We strive to serve our residents and know that for many, we’re more than just a pool, a fitness class or a preschool. We’re an important part of their lives, their routine, their social interaction and their health.

How could we justify closing and take away all those opportunities and benefits of our programs, particularly at a time when we knew that our community may need that interaction and that distraction the most?

Ultimately, we had to weigh the positive outcomes of remaining open with the potential for negative ones. And when we did that, the decision made itself. The risk for maintaining operations and potentially exposing our patrons and staff to this virus was too high.

This was particularly obvious when we considered that we serve more than 150 children each day through our youth programs, preschool, swim lesson and other programs and that we have many programs that serve our community’s senior population. Those two populations are among the most vulnerable to both carry and contract this virus.

We were also faced with the decision of postponing or even canceling our annual fundraiser, Sip and Savor. That was a particularly hard choice because we know the enormous benefit of the funds raised in that event.

We made these decisions in collaboration with our partners in the community, local health department, recommendations from the Oregon Health Authority and in line with many, if not all, of our neighboring park and recreation agencies across the region and state.

Our hope is that we are doing our part to keep our participants, staff and community safe by not enabling the spread of this virus. While we were one of the many agencies and individuals that made hard decisions, those decisions will curb the spread of the virus and help get us all back to normal much faster.

Normal for me looks like an evening of watching basketball or the Master’s Golf Tournament (also postponed, sadly). There’s no telling when those events will return and what “normal” will even look like though.

I urge you all to take precaution during this time and keep yourself safe. And please, wash your hands.

Skyler Archibald is executive director of the Sunset Empire Park and Recreation District.

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