After 22 days of panic, the 12 hours of sunlight on Saturday gave Potomac much to cheer.
"This is pretty much the first day we've been out," said Thomas Haass, holding his son Scott, 13 months, who joined his sister Victoria, 4, on the playground of Hadley's Park last Saturday afternoon.
Ging Xu and Roland Rudorfer brought their daughter Celine Rudorfer, 2 1/2, to Hadley's Park in their Fallsmeade neighborhood where they moved just three months ago from overseas.
"I was a little afraid," said Xu, of the three weeks of sniper attacks. "Now, I'm so happy we can go out again."
Benji Sokobin, wearing a purple Baltimore Raven football jersey, enjoyed a game of tag football with his younger brother Ezra and parents Debbie and Jonathan Sokobin. This was just hours after the boys played in soccer games.
"We were so happy to play soccer this morning," said Debbie Sokobin. "We're setting the right tone to start a new chapter."
Close to them, Bryan, 9, and Allie, 7, Doremus flew a kite on the outfield grass of the softball field with their parents Paul and Colleen Doremus. They said they came straight from Great Falls.
BEFORE LAST THURSDAY and the arrest of the two sniper suspects, Hadley's Park as well as Avenel Park, the Potomac Community Center and parks throughout Potomac were nearly empty.
Fear of sniper attacks kept youth off playgrounds and away from team events and outdoor activities.
"These kids were trapped inside. Every day they wanted to know: 'Is there hockey? Is there soccer?' said Sue Gordon, holding her nine-week-old dog Boomer.
She and her husband Lenny Gordon watched their son Zach, 9, play in a roller hockey match between 10-and-under teams, the Checking Dogs and the Ice Dogs, at the Potomac Community Center.
"There have been no games, no practice for three weeks. It's nice to be out," said Lenny Gordon.
DARKNESS DIDN'T DIM the same emotions felt by high school athletes, coaches, fans and parents on Saturday night.
"It's pretty exciting to be back out here again. I know for the seniors — I'm a senior — this is our last season and I was really looking forward to being able to cheer our here every Friday night," said Nicole Musto, a Whitman pom who rooted and performed during Whitman's football game on Saturday. The Saturday game, scheduled for Friday, took place one night after teams were cleared for practice by Montgomery County Public Schools. Montgomery County athletic teams were kept off the practice and game fields under Code Blue precautions taken by the school system in response to sniper attacks nearly three weeks ago.
"It was almost like the beginning of a new season again," said Ernie Williams, coach of Churchill's football team. Williams, whose team played Saturday morning, attended the Whitman football game against Sherwood on Saturday night. Churchill will play Whitman on Wednesday to make up one of the two games missed during the sniper attacks. This week, most Montgomery County teams will play three games in eight days.
"We didn't feel as prepared as we'd like to be, but everybody felt that way. You have that and then the emotion of getting it all started again," said Williams.
MISSED GAMES didn't only cause a letdown for players emotionally, but also could have an impact on college scholarships and the chance to compete during college years.
"We have several kids that are looking to play in college next year and it was getting difficult to sell kids to colleges without having as much game tape as we'd like to have," said Williams. "To get back on the field gives them a better opportunity to play in college."
After three weeks of uncertainty, getting on the field was important and a relief, but the interruption had its toll.
"It's strange, really, because we've been in the gym a lot. It's been a letdown not being able to do what you hope to be doing. It's really upsetting because you can't practice as much as you want to practice and get everything in," said Scott Saling, a senior defensive lineman on Whitman's football team. "A lot of mental errors happen."
Dean Swink, Whitman's football coach, said one of his challenges was keeping his athletes focused at a time when the possibility of never being able to resume the season was real.
"The first week wasn't so bad, the second week was getting a little tiresome, the third week was awful," said Swink. "You can only tell a kid so many times, 'You have to prepare, we're playing this week, you have to focus, have to concentrate,' — until they say, 'Yeah, right. Whatever.'
"Of course they watch the news, and there are no leads and it doesn't look like they are going to catch anybody and, boom, they catch him, it's over and we're back at it again.
"That is the number one thing we try to instill in these kids. Life is going to throw adversity at you. Do not quit the first time because, if so, life will not be very fun for you."