Friday was a holiday, of sorts.
It wasn’t anything to officially celebrate. There weren’t any parades or gifts to exchange.
It was more a thrill of experiencing something that’s been missing for a while.
It was a high school gym filled to the brim with fans for basketball games.
Friday became the day when normalcy came back from its oh-too-long hiatus.
That was a parade and a gift in itself.
Spectators turned out at North Hagerstown in full force to see the Hubs host South Hagerstown’s Rebels in girls and boys basketball.
They were two of a few rivalry matchups for the day — and those other gyms were probably packed too — but the size of North Hagerstown’s facility made this something to savor.
In normal times, these games would seem routine. This one moved the needle because of all the protocols, postponements and precautions caused by high school sports’ biggest opponent — COVID-19.
This time, the stands were filling by 5:30 p.m. when the girls took the floor before reaching capacity for the boys tipoff at 7.
For about two years now, that hasn’t been the case.
Games have been cancelled and seasons shortened because of COVID’s full-court press, whether you believe it or not.
And when those games were played, there were rules and limitations which kept fans distant and distanced. Access was limited to a select few.
That made this night refreshing. It wasn’t quite normal yet, but it was close enough to spark some “remember whens.”
Obviously, there were reminders that we aren’t in the 2010s anymore.
It started with a request to wear a mask to enter the game and sit in the bleachers. The signs and verbal pleas were numerous, asking for cooperation to help prevent the spread of the virus.
To some, it still fell on deaf ears. As it turned out, South Hagerstown wasn't the only group of Rebels in the building.
To each their own. There was still basketball to be watched.
The stands had pockets of partisans for both teams sprinkled around the seats. The groups were like islands in the sea of inclined seating.
At the end of the floor, there were two sets of bleachers — one each for the students of the two schools — separated by a moat-like aisle between them.
During the game, they resembled jury boxes you might see in another “court” room. With each play, one side cheered its team’s “innocence,” while the other claimed “guilt” of bending the rules.
North fans used their home-court advantage to set the stage for the rivalry matchup.
The Hubs’ backers yeah-ed and nay-ed the teams as they took the floor for warmups.
When South entered, North’s jeers drowned out the Rebel-rousers.
Quickly, North followed, receiving booming cheers to start a Hub-abaloo.
North help stage more pregame buildup by dimming the lights for a dramatic introduction of the home team’s starters.
Once the pregame histrionics ended, it was time to put the ball in play. That started the emotional tug-of-war between the two sides.
South's boys turned down the volume of North’s excitement by grabbing the early lead on the cold-shooting Hubs. Team Rebel started getting stoked while Team Hub had its complexion turn as green as South’s uniforms.
South built a 27-20 halftime lead, leaving North’s side nervous.
The Hubs remedied their situation with quicker defense, leading to scores in transition. The seven-point deficit melted quickly as the Hubs outscored the Rebels 16-5 in the third quarter and 38-14 in the second half to pull away for a 58-41 victory.
North’s girls won in similar fashion, falling behind early and closing with explosive offense in their 66-29 win.
By and large, the fanbase displayed good behavior, but as the fortunes turned and the bravado heightened, some tempers started to flair.
A ripple of discontent appeared in the third quarter, caused by one student crossing enemy lines by taking a seat in the other side’s seating. That student was extracted.
In this theater, just saying “can’t we all just get along” didn’t work. That’s normal these days in any contest that pits two sides against each other.
Then, like many times in games of this magnitude, some chippiness spilled over onto the floor, but with no real consequences.
When it was over, the teams shook hands and went on their way. They know the rematch will be in a few weeks at South Hagerstown.
Every game has its own level of drama and tension, both on and off the floor. The same could be said for self-control.
Emotions aside — let’s mark any indiscretions as being out of practice on game etiquette — it was a big night for high school sports.
It was a reminder of what we had — and took for granted — just two short years ago.
The COVID years blindsided everyone, forcing us to change routines, habits and pleasures, again, whether you believe it or not.
Even though we are still challenged by the virus, it was reassuring to see the excitement a good, old rivalry like the North-South games create.
It’s a good sign, especially for when normalcy comes out of hiding for good.
This article originally appeared on The Herald-Mail: Parasiliti: North-South Hagerstown rivalry is break in virus blues