What the Recession Hasn’t Touched

By Kellyn Brown

It’s difficult to accurately measure a recession by everyday anecdotes. We tally vacant storefronts, count new job listings and scan local real estate prices. They’re subjective, but the signs of hard times are there.

What we tend to overlook – or at least I do – are other indicators; the ones that point to optimism, vigor and, yes, even hope. Signs that things will eventually turn around, like they always have.

In a story last month on the number of jobs lost in Columbia Falls, I was struck by what local barber Randy Bocksnick said: “We are very, very resilient. I’ve always said that we get down and we bounce right back up.”

As unemployment rises above 10 percent in Flathead County, in Bocksnick’s town, where many of its largest employers have scaled back their manufacturing operations, that number is almost certainly higher. Thus, it would easy to dismiss one man’s blind optimism, if only it were that. But Bocksnick may be right, which brings me to basketball.

At the Northwestern A Divisional Tournament, I found myself watching those in the stands instead of on the court. The games, especially a few, were thrilling. But it was the crowds that overflowed onto the track circling the second floor of the gymnasium that were especially energizing.

From Ronan to Whitefish, fans traveled to Glacier High School. The number of spectators grew so large, in fact, that I tried to calculate how many of them were related to the athletes. While not a math whiz, I quickly concluded it could only be a fraction of the total. No, the majority of spectators were there for the same reasons I was: To watch basketball, to cheer for a common cause and to escape for a few hours.

I really didn’t care who won each game. I live in Kalispell, and we didn’t have a team in the tournament. Notice we – that’s how we refer to the teams in which we cheer as if somehow we play for them. It’s funny and, in this case, fitting. Those at the games, even the ones rooting against each other, were on the same team.

A friend of mine told me recently that the first thing he reads in the Beacon is the sports page – the profiles of young athletes honing their skills at any given sport. And, while never a strong athlete myself, I’m beginning to understand why that section draws so many eyes.

It’s easy for people to turn to the sports section rather than reading news that confirms their hunches that fewer businesses are open and more employees are out of work. It’s a cliché to talk about community, but in times like this, we yearn for something to cheer for, with our neighbors and family surrounding us and cheering just as loud.

At the gymnasium, it was high school basketball. But that common bond could just as easily be found at the fair, or church, or a live concert. It’s places where we can shrug off the economy if only for an hour or so.

At divisionals, Columbia Falls fans showed up in the greatest number and were likely the loudest. They wore matching T-shirts to commemorate its former basketball star Craig Finberg, who is battling cancer.

And by the end of the tournament, their boys and girls teams answered by both winning their respective tournaments and heading to state. The town had reason to cheer, but so did those supporting high schools across the valley.

It was enough to make you agree with Bocksnick. His town will be fine. And so will the rest of us.