Class of 2020 is on a unique path

By Michael Kinney

In the next few weeks, the class of 2020 will be seeing an end to their high school careers. For the majority of them, it was like almost any other class that had come before it.

But that changed in March when all a sudden, the normal school days were turned upside down and they were left wondering what was going to happen on a daily basis.

“It has been pretty normal up until the week of Spring Break, then everything turned into a crazy set of events that initially felt like unbelief,” said Hunter Molloy. “Then I went into denial. Really, this has been a grieving cycle that has been all over the place.”

Molloy is an 18-year old at Elgin High School. Like thousands of seniors around the country, what was supposed to be the most rememberable time in high school turned into a time of uncertainty. Many of the plans he had to close out his high school career was canceled due to the spread of COVID-19 throughout the state and country.

“It was probably two to three weeks into the entire situation that it became real,” Molloy said. “It was real that I would not be able to see or talk to some of my classmates that I may never see again.”

It was pretty much the same way for McKenna Morrison, an 18-year old senior at Massilon Jackson High School in Ohio.

“This year just hasn’t felt real. Everyone is out of school but it’s not summer,” said Morrison, whose mother is a native of Lawton. “It hasn’t really hit me yet that March 14th was my last day ever at Jackson. I still feel like we’re on a long break and everything is going to go back to being normal.”

It wasn’t until March 25 that The Oklahoma State Board of Education voted to close public schools statewide for the remainder of the school year.

The board also voted to turn to distance learning as a way to finish out the school year. This also meant an end to any extracurricular activities.

“We were devastated,” said Eisenhower High’s Landon Augusta. “We had been fighting all season long in soccer and did not get to finish our season. I missed out on my final moments with my team and not being able to fulfill something we had dreamed of for four years.”

For an athlete like Molloy, not being able to finish off all of the hard work he and his teammates had put in made the situation worse.

“I can remember when I found out that baseball and all sports for the spring season came out to be canceled by the OSSAA, it became real and quite frankly, devastating. Our baseball team was on the brink of another promising season and we were all hungry for another run in the state tournament,” Molloy said. “I do believe when I heard that this was over, I felt like I had been hit by a huge truck. I have played baseball since I could walk and all of a sudden that last season was ripped out right from underneath me.”

Morrison, who will attend Ohio University, is also an athlete, but her sport of soccer concluded in the fall. What she missed out on the most were the normal traditions that go along with being a senior.

“Covid-19 really took away my last memories at Jackson. I didn’t have a prom, I have no official last day of school, and the thing that I’m most missing out on is my graduation,” Morrison said. “You only get to graduate once from high school and unfortunately, we do not get to do that. Yes, we all graduate but there’s no actual ceremony. When I heard that we weren’t going to get to walk across the stage I was very upset I may not have shown it but I was. That’s the one thing I was looking forward to. I didn’t care so much about prom but graduation was the one thing I wanted to have.”

At her school, Morrison said they have graduation plans for a drive-by ceremony on March 28. It is not how she envisioned it.

“Each graduate will be allowed one car and we can fit as many people in the car legally. We are supposed to wear our cap and gown as well. When we drive up the staff will hand us the case to our diploma and take a picture but we are not allowed out of the car,” Morrison said. “We are assigned a certain time to arrive. Then they will mail us our diploma. This is all happening on the day we were supposed to graduate.  I think it’s every kid’s goal to walk across that stage and graduate. We spent 12 years trying to get to that point and now that’s taken from us. All our hard work won’t be celebrated the right way. Walking across that stage is an accomplishment. I think it’s very upsetting to the grandparents and parents. They always look forward to watching their grandkid/kid walk across the stage.”

In Oklahoma, different school districts have varying plans for graduation ceremonies. Lawton Public Schools is scheduled to have virtual graduation for three high schools and Gateway Success Center on May 22.

The Moore School district has pushed their ceremonies back into late June and will have their seniors walk the stage at Cox Convention Center. If they have to postpone the services, they will be moved to July.

Molloy, who is heading to Cameron University,  is still hoping he will be able to walk the stage as well, but the odds are against him. His graduation is set for March 15th.

“Thankfully, Elgin Public Schools is still working on finding a way to try their very best to make this happen for us,” Molloy said. “I am so very grateful to them and our community for rallying around us and finding ways to honor our class even during this time. We do not know if or when this may happen, but it is not out of the question. I, along with most of my classmates, continue to pray that we will get the full graduation experience.”

For Augusta, he is coming to grips with not being able to complete his high school career as he wanted. As he heads off to trade school, he is looking forward to getting the next chapter in his life started.

“I regret it. I want to go back and still have all those memories with my friends,” Augusta said. “But on another note, getting into the real world fast and moving on getting a job wasn’t too bad either. The one thing I have learned is don’t take anything for granted. Our last moments in high school were stripped away, it makes you realize all the things you would go back and redo.”

While they are unable to go back and get a redo, the graduating seniors are in a position to still do amazing things. During his virtual commencement speech May 16, former President Barack Obama pointed that out to the class.

“No one does big things by themselves,” Obama said. “If we’re going to save the environment and defeat future pandemics, we’re going to have to do it together. So be alive to one another’s struggles. Stand up for one another’s rights. Leave behind all the old ways of thinking that divide us.

“When everything’s up for grabs, this is your generation’s world to shape.”

Michael Kinney Media

Riley: “We have one good shot at it.”

By Michael Kinney

Since mid-March the sports world has been in a standstill. Whether it is professional leagues, the college ranks or even youth athletics, the overwhelming majority of athletes have been in a wait and see mode as the country deals with the COVID-19.

That includes the University of Oklahoma football team. The Sooners missed out on spring football and workouts due to the limitations and guidelines put in place by state officials to stop the spread of COVID-19.

However, OU coach Lincoln Riley doesn’t seem to be in a hurry to get his players back on campus. During a virtual conference call Thursday with reporters, he expressed his worries that things may be moving too fast.

“All the talk about these schools wanting to bring players back on June 1 is one of the most ridiculous things I’ve ever heard,” Riley said. “We’ve got to be patient. We have one good shot at it. “It would be completely irresponsible to bring these guys in too early. We need to bring these guys in as late as we can. Every day they come in could be a day we could’ve gotten better, learned more about the virus, the PPE gets better, a day closer to a vaccine, the testing capabilities get better. It’s just not worth it.”

This differs completely with remarks Oklahoma State University football coach Mike Gundy made in April about getting players back on campus as soon as possible.

“The NCAA, the presidents of the universities, the conference commissioners, the athletic directors all need to be meeting right now, and we need to start coming up with answers,” Gundy said. “In my opinion, if we have to bring our players back, test them. They’re in good shape, they’re all 18, 19, 20, 21, 22 years old, they’re healthy. A lot of them can fight it off with their natural body, the antibodies and build that they have. There are some people that are asymptomatic. If that’s true, then yeah, we sequester them. And people say, ‘That’s crazy.’ No, it’s not crazy, because we need to continue to budget and run money through the state of Oklahoma.”

Gundy has since apologized for the controversy his statement caused. But he did not back down from his opinion.

Riley’s apprehensions stem from the recent conversations revolving around professional sports moving toward making a comeback in the near future. The NBA, the NFL, MLB and NHL all seem to be making progress to resuming their seasons.

College athletics are hoping to join right behind them.

The commissioners of the Power 5 conferences (Big 12, ACC, SEC, Big 10, Pac 12) had a conference call with Roger Goodell to hear his thoughts on how they can get the college football season up and running.

“They’re ahead of us in terms of developing protocols as to how they can bring players back, and how they would test, and if they are playing before when a full stadium of fans were allowed, how many fans would be allowed in the stadium,” ACC commissioner John Swofford told the media Thursday. “They have to deal with different state regulations just like we may have to deal with that, but from a medical standpoint, I think we can certainly learn from them as they move into their training camps and playing games because their cycle is ahead of ours.”

Yet, Riley doesn’t seem to believe the college level can take the same path as pro leagues. Especially since universities have more than just billionaire owners to listen to.

This was shown last week when the California State University System, the largest four-year public university in the country, announced that it plans to offer primarily online remote classes this fall. That includes 23 campuses across the state.

This has many wondering the rest of the school on the West coast will soon follow and if that also means no fall sports.

Riley doesn’t believe that is going to happen in Oklahoma. But, he also isn’t sure.

“I definitely think we’ll play. “When we play? I just think everybody, whether it’s our decision-makers, our coaches, our players, fans, I think everybody’s gotta have a very open mind about this,” Riley said. “We’re not the NFL. There are some huge, huge differences in us being able to put on a successful season versus a professional league. We’re not the NBA. We don’t just have 15 players. This is a totally different deal.”

However, like with most issues, the decision to come back has a lot to do with money.

Several of the elite football programs, such as the Sooners, could survive having to sit out one season if they had to. But the revenue those programs take in also funds most of the other sports on campus.

If there is no football, many believe some non-revenue (Olympic) sports will be cut.

While the SEC is set to vote May 22 on making their athletic facilities available for student-athletes as soon as June 1, the Big 12 has yet to put forth a timetable. However, Riley does believe there will be some type of season.

“I do believe if we do it right and we don’t get ahead of ourselves, we will be able to play a season. Whether that’s this fall, whether that’s in the spring, whether it’s a combination, whether that’s a full schedule, shortened schedule, I don’t know,” Riley said. “I know all those options are on the table, and we’re gonna have to have an open mind and we’re probably gonna have to make some adjustments along the way. But I have a high, high confidence that we are gonna play football this year.”

Michael Kinney Media

Will the NBA return this season?

By Michael Kinney

On March 11, the Oklahoma City Thunder rang the Coronavirus alarm in the sports world. That night a visiting member of the Utah Jazz tested positive for COVID-19 and forced the game to be canceled.

From that moment on the NBA has been at a standstill. The season was suspended as the world dealt with the pandemic.

But that didn’t mean officials and owners weren’t looking for toward the point where they could restart the 2019-20 campaign and finish off the season in some manner.

“I just think it’s incumbent on the teams to really follow the lead of the league leadership in this situation because there’s not going to be a perfect solution.” Oklahoma City Vice President/General Manager Sam Presti said.  “In the event we are in a position to play again, obviously the health and wellness of staff, players, fans, everybody involved, that’s a decision that needs to be made way above anyone at a team level.”

Some of the options that have been talked about include playing in empty arenas without fans or shipping playoff teams off to Disney World to play a month-long tournament. It would be like their own bubble, with no contact from the outside world.

“Relative to coming back, whatever they provide to us, I know from our point of view, we’ll work with whatever it is as long as it’s been vetted by the league medical folks and everybody is working with the same schedule,” Presti said. “I can’t give you a perfect answer because I just don’t know. We’re in uncharted territory.”

Several of the league’s biggest stars have come out in recent weeks proclaiming they want to finish the season. They have included the likes of the Lakers’ LeBron James and Thunder guard Chris Paul.

“Saw some reports about execs and agents wanting to cancel season??? That’s absolutely not true,” James stated on his social media account. “Nobody I know saying anything like that. As soon as it’s safe we would like to finish our season. I’m ready and our team is ready. Nobody should be canceling anything.”

Publicly, everyone involved seems to be saying they want to play out the year. Right now, it’s the logistics, along with the safety, that has NBA officials stymied.

“We’re just not ready to set a date yet in terms of how long we can wait before we no longer would be able to continue this season,” NBA commissioner Adam Silver said. “I would just say everything is on the table, including potentially delaying the start of next season. We just need more information.”

When the season was shut down, there were still 259 regular season games left on the schedule. And while most playoff teams seemed to be set, there were still chances for franchises to fall out of contention. (Oklahoma City (40-24) is currently in fifth place in the Western Conference and just two and a half games out of third place.)

So, if the league decide whether to just restart the season in the playoffs, or allow the teams several games to prepare for the postseason.

None of these questions have been answered publicly yet. Or even if they will for sure finish the season. It’s still up in the air.

However, last week the NBA took a step closer when it announced that teams would be able to start opening its facilities for players to work out and shoot around. That is scheduled to begin May 8.

Oklahoma has been one of the more aggressive states in relaxing its shelter at home guidelines. THe state has already allowed gyms to reopen under certain restrictions.

That could be seen as an advantage for the Thunder in being able to get their players back on the practice court sooner.

Presti doesn’t necessarily see it that way.

“I don’t know that there are any advantages in this situation, and I don’t mean from a basketball standpoint; I just mean in general. And a big part of that is just because of the amount of uncertainty that everybody is working with,” Presti said. “I just — I don’t know that there’s an advantage. You can make the argument that coming back too soon is a disadvantage; know what I mean?”

Regardless, Presti doesn’t want to have to make any decisions on whether to start allowing his players back into the practice facilities until he is positive that they will be safe from contracting the COVID-19. And that may not come until after May 8.

“With respect to the May 8 date, what I can say is that the league has stated it’s a target date, and we’re still a week or so away from that before we even can get there,” Presti said. “And I think what we’ve all seen and lived through this experience is that things are changing like literally day by day. We’re evaluating that. I wouldn’t say that we’re committed to doing that. We have to work through that a little bit. We’re going to continue to speak with our players about that whole entire concept of coming back, but the league has given some flexibility, obviously, to the teams to determine what is best for them. And for us, we’re operating on the assumption that the league wouldn’t be permitting players and staff members back into facilities unless they felt it was absolutely safe.”

Michael Kinney Media

 

Sherriff candidate shows support for the unknown essential workers

By Michael Kinney

Ever since the Coronavirus has spread into Oklahoma, there are several groups of people who have stayed on their job because of their essential status. They include nurses and first responders.

However, there is one group that has continued to work in the same conditions, but are much less herald. They are those in the public transportation realm. The bus drivers have been on the job in Oklahoma City and other parts of the state keeping the economy moving.

That is why Tommie Johnson found himself at the EMBARK headquarters Wednesday evening. The Norman police officer wanted to give back to the underappreciated group.

“We wanted to give back to our community, definitely give back to people who have been servicing Oklahoma County,” Johnson said. “Now I’m a police officer. I realize that the community has poured so much love and attention to us, as first responders, and I appreciate that. But as a cop, you see other sides of things and how other people are investing, especially during this COVID crisis as well.”

Johnson decided the best way to show his gratitude was by feeding the EMBARK employees.

He enlisted the help of his old high school baseball teammate Abel Deloera, who is the manager of San Marcos Mexican Restaurant.

Deloera’s family established San Marcos in 1993. The business has grown to five locations during the past 27 years.

“I went to school with him at U.S. Grant. We played on the same baseball team, so our ties go way back,” Johnson said. “We brought food here today and fed approximately 30 people. We brought enough for 30 meals, full setups, fajitas, enchiladas, the whole works.”

According to Johnson, the EMBARK personnel was very appreciative of the gift.

“When I called in to schedule this, the lady who answered the phone was like, ‘Sir, I appreciate that more than anything, because somebody is thinking about us,’” Johnson said. “And when you get that response, I mean, that made me feel so good. I mean, even bringing the food here, just hearing her say, “Somebody’s thinking about us.” That made me feel good.”

TJ photo
Oklahoma County Sherriff candidate, Tommie Johnson, right, dropped off dinner for the transit workers in Oklahoma County April 29

Johnson, who is also running for Oklahoma County Sheriff, said he knows the men and women who transport people are the ones who are keeping the economy going in every city and town. He wanted to show them that their work has not gone unnoticed.

“I believe situations like this, you feel you’re forgotten. Their toeing the front line like first responders are, and their job is very important,” Johnson said. “And I didn’t want them to think it would be overlooked, and I didn’t want the community to overlook them either. We need to shed light on the people who are doing positive things that may just not be in the nursing field, or on police or the fire side. But they are just as easily exposed to this as we are. So I just wanted to just show appreciation. Abel wanted to show appreciation, and San Marcos did as well.”

Johnson said what he and Deloera did is just being part of a community.

“I think all too often, police and a lot of first responders are put in a box, like it’s just enforcement that we do,” Johnson said. “Police are involved in the community at a level much greater than that. We see when situations like the COVID-19 hit, we see how that affects communities at a ground level, and we see how it affects people in their homes. And so I just think from that perspective, I think this is why this fits so well, and why I’m running for Oklahoma County Sheriff is because I want to be more than an enforcer. I want to be involved in my community in a bigger capacity. I want them to know that they have me for more than just enforcing the laws on the street. They have somebody who’s going to be invested as well.”

Michael Kinney Media

Audio shop finds loophole to avoid COVID-19 shutdown

 

By Michael Kinney

Back on March 24, Lawton Mayor Stan Booker ordered all non-essential businesses to close. That included hair salons, nail salons, tattoo parlors and all other non-medical establishments.

Yet, there was one business that was able to stay open in Lawton that seemingly didn’t fit the essential category. Audio Tech, which installs home theaters and car audio systems, has been able to keep working throughout the shutdown due to the COVID-19 disease. According to Carol Perez, the CEO of Audio Tech, they provide an essential service.

“What people don’t know is that we’re considered essential,” Perez said. “Even though we don’t let people in, we’re essential because we’re a service center for a company called Low-Cost Interlock. You know those breathalyzers for DUIs? They have to be calibrated and we’re a service center for this company. In the state of Oklahoma, we’re essential.”

According to Perez, the breathalyzers, which are placed in automobiles in order for them to start, have to come to Audio Tech every three to four weeks to be calibrated. That includes a diagnostic test. “If we were totally shut down, they wouldn’t be able to drive because their car would lock up,” Perez said. “We were essential in that part.”

Because of that, Audio Tech has also been able to stay afloat by being able to work in other areas of its business. But that has not been easy during what Perez calls the new normal. “I’ll tell you that one of the things that has helped our business is that we did get the PPP loan,” Perez said. “If it wasn’t for that, I wouldn’t be able to keep the employees that I have now, and that’s going to help us keep us afloat for a little bit.”

When the coronavirus pandemic started to spread through Oklahoma, Perez knew right away she was going to have to modify her business philosophy. She knew the demand for electronics was going to suffer.

“It has affected our business. Our business is not where it normally is this time of the year in comparison to other years and the month,” Perez said. “But like every other business, I guess, we just had to learn how to adapt. Our store is closed. No one’s allowed to walk in here. What we’re offering right now is curbside service. We conduct a lot of the business outside.”

Audio Tech has pretty much turned into a drive-through style business. That is the only way to keep her staff and the customers safe while also keeping their doors open, somewhat.

“In the car business, we were able to conduct business outside of this building,” Perez said. “Normally, we have a waiting room, but we told them they could not wait here. They could sit outside, and we’d give them a chair, or they had to make arrangements to be picked up while we were servicing the vehicle. That’s how we conducted that business.”

According to Perez, the staff still must use masks and gloves while working on the audio systems of vehicles. They even will wipe down the interior of the automobiles with Clorox wipes. “They are to use precaution in those areas,” Perez said. “I mean, we couldn’t just totally shut down or we could very well be non-existent right now. That has maintained us. It’s not anywhere where it needs to be, but it has maintained us.”

While Audio Tech has been able to still work on cars, they have been unable to work in private homes. The only exceptions are houses that are under construction. “We do construction homes,” Perez said.

“There’s nobody living in them and people are still… the workers are still working, and so we’ll go in there and pre-wire the home. We were able to do those because they’re outside. One of the things that we’ve done is we were able to work on some churches, some houses of worship, because nobody was there. We were able to work in churches while they were empty.

Even as businesses are slowly opening up around the state, Perez doesn’t know when she will be given the word to return to full status. All she can do is keep playing it by ear like all other businesses in the state.

“It’s going to be a new way of doing business,” Perez said. “I think a lot of us are thinking about how do we do business a new way. I’m just trying to take care of my employees, and they want to work. They need to work, they want to work, and I want them to work. I don’t know what the future holds. I certainly hope that we’re able to move forward.”

Michael Kinney Media

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