I still remember the day very well.
Sept. 11, 2001 is one of those days that is etched into our brains. As a youngster, I can remember a host of memorable events: The murder of John Lennon, the attempted assassination of President Ronald Regan and the Challenger Disaster. But there was nothing like Sept. 11, 2001 — and I can only hope we never experience anything like it ever again.
On Sept. 11, 2001, I was a 30-something sports writer working at The Progress in Clearfield, Pa. At the time, Clearfield was my adopted hometown and I truly loved what I did. I got paid to cover sports. Everything from Little League Baseball to Penn State football, the little daily newspaper did it all. Back then, we had three or four writers on the sports staff and we covered everything under the sun. Heck, we treated the local high school like it was a professional sports team.
On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, I was working my usual split shift. For those of you who don’t know what a split shift is, Google it. I would typically cover a sports event in the evening, write it up and head home. Then, after a short sleep, head back into the office at 5 a.m. to produce the sports pages. The Progress was an afternoon newspaper, so that gave us some time to get all the late baseball scores in. That day started like any other. I did my pages and headed home to spend the morning with my son, Jake, who was just three years old at the time.
We did our usual morning routine. Breakfast, followed by some television. I usually tried to steer Jake toward PBS and the more educational television shows, in case I nodded off. He was watching “Sesame Street” or something along those lines when the telephone rang. It was my Mom and she was hysterical.
“Isn’t this just awful,” she said through tears.
I had no idea what she was talking about. Keep in mind that in 2001, we weren’t glued to our phones like we are today. Heck, I don’t even know if I had a cell phone at that point in my life.
“What are you talking about?” I asked.
“Turn on the TV,” she said.
I ran to the bedroom and turned on the television. I sat there in stunned silence. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. I immediately called my managing editor at the newspaper. For some reason, the television in the newsroom wasn’t on. I told her to turn it on. The Progress was an afternoon newspaper, so they were in the midst of finishing the front page for the day.
Needless to say, they had to stop the presses and re-do the front page. If ever there was a time to “stop the presses,” this was it.
For the rest of the day, I watched the news reports in horror. I tried to shield Jake from seeing the images of burning buildings, death and destruction. I thought to myself, “no three-year-old needs to see this.” It was challenging, though. It was everywhere. And as it took over the airwaves, I realized that it was going to be impossible to keep him from seeing the disturbing images.
At newspapers, the sports department is often referred to as the “toy department” because it just isn’t serious stuff. As I went out to cover a high school soccer game later that day, I quickly realized why we had that moniker. It seemed very unimportant. But we were professionals and the show would go on.
Meanwhile, sporting events around the country were canceled as a result of the terror attack. Major League Baseball, college football and NFL football were forced to cancel games since all flights were grounded. On Friday night that week, our sports staff went out to cover high school football games and even a few days later, it still felt surreal.
My children have asked me what it was like on Sept. 11, 2001 and the days that followed. It’s hard to describe. I remember the country being united as one. Firefighters and first responders made their way to New York City, Washington, D.C., and Shanksville, Pa., to search for victims. People donated water, supplies and lined up to donate blood. If anything, 9/11 made us stronger. We wanted to do what we could to help our fellow man.
In the 20 years that have followed, the country has become more divided than ever before. In 2001, we would line up to donate blood. In 2021, some won’t get a shot or even wear a mask to help their fellow Americans.
It’s hard to believe that it has been 20 years since 9/11. When I look back on it, I still experience the range of emotions that I did that very day — fear, sadness and anger, just to name a few.
We learned many lessons from Sept. 11, 2001. As we reflect as a nation today, let’s remember what a wonderful place America truly is and how very blessed we are to be a part of it.
Chris Morelli is a staff writer for The Express.
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