I will never complain about a school concert again. In fact, I long for seats to be filled to enjoy a school concert. A beginner band concert sounds so much better than listening to a beginner band student toot her hand-me-down trumpet in my basement.

The pandemic has taught me this life lesson: less complaining, more living. We do not need to debate what should or shouldn’t be done regarding COVID-19 restrictions, shutdowns and mandates in this little column space. One thing I hope we can agree on: Let’s fill the seats when we safely can again for every kids’ concert, play and sporting event. I promise I’ll be there.

And when my calendar fills up with my kids’ sporting events and we drive hundreds of miles in a week to be in attendance, I won’t complain about the grind of road trips, concession food, numb bleacher butts or even losing a close game.

Katie Pinke, Agweek Publisher
Katie Pinke, Agweek Publisher

As a fan in the stands from the preschool days of tee ball through collegiate football for the past 20 years, I’ve attended hundreds of games in all weather conditions and in all sizes of gymnasiums and stadiums across the countryside. Add in church activities, Christmas concerts, fall piano festivals, spring recitals, small and large group music contests, one-act plays, science fairs and FFA contests and I now recognize how much these everyday events add to rural life and culture for our family.

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A sport is not curriculum. It’s extra. Sports and the arts of any kids are not requirements of education. But what the pandemic taught me is these activities enrich our lives and add value to our kids’ lives.

I miss those “extras” of rural life. I long to see all ages, from newborn to the elderly, enjoying a concert or cheering on athletes at a weekend game.

I respect and understand public health guidelines, mask mandates and numerous health and safety measures implemented during COVID-19. But when given the opportunity this past week to attend the first away game of the basketball season for our seventh-grade daughter, I picked up my younger daughter from school and met up with our son to attend the game in a rural gym 80 miles away. My thoughts during the drive weren’t about the players or the game. Instead, I thought of my deepen respect for those carrying on to give kids’ opportunities through extracurricular activities.

For the first time in years, I brought a “real” camera to the game to capture the moments on the court. I no longer take for granted the opportunity to attend dozens of events, concerts and games. Each opportunity is now a gift. I learned the extras in life can be taken away in seconds. In seven years, my beginner band student will be a senior in high school. I only have five years to follow and cheer on my now seventh grade basketball player.

My pandemic promise to myself is to be present at every one of my kids’ events and activities possible, knowing the alternative of staying home with a blank calendar is not my preferred way of living.

This week, concession stand popcorn never tasted better as it did in a small-town gymnasium for a junior high girls’ basketball game. The rural gym and bleachers felt cozy, like a home I’ve missed, even with masks, social distancing and limited fans.

The work of administrators, coaches, teachers, bus drivers and additional staff in every school and state immensely increased this school year. I thought about the games without parents in the stands and how much more responsibility it piles on coaches. Are they being paid more for their efforts? I don’t think so, but I hope everyone working to give kids a chance to participate in extracurricular activities knows the value they’re adding to students’ lives, their families and their communities.

Let the kids play this winter, outside and inside, while following public health and safety guidelines set forth by experts. And when vaccines are fully distributed and COVID-19 is in our rearview mirror, let us all fill our calendars with our favorite school concerts and sporting events and fill the seats and stands in sincere support of the extras we’re given in life.

Pinke is the publisher and general manager of Agweek. She can be reached at kpinke@agweek.com, or connect with her on Twitter @katpinke.