Much like everyone else, Georgia Swarm play-by-play broadcaster Mark Zinno suddenly found himself in a strange new world after the Swarm’s home game on March 8, as the NLL suspended the 2019-20 season in response to the COVID-19 pandemic for the safety and well-being of their fans, players, and personnel.
It wasn’t long before Zinno, a lieutenant colonel in the Georgia Army National Guard, was called up for military duty. He received the call at the very end of March to help the state’s efforts in battling the pandemic and keeping Georgians safe.
After a week on the front lines helping protect the most vulnerable Georgians, the Georgia Swarm’s Ty Merrow caught up for a quick discussion on what he’s seen and the impact his service is having on his family, along with his thoughts on the Swarm season in this edition of “Getting to Know.”
TM: Everyone wants to know off the bat what it’s like on the front lines.
MZ: I would say first and foremost I think Georgians should feel very lucky and fortunate that we’ve got some of the best people on the front lines of this whole thing, and that’s not just military. That’s civilians. Everybody from Georgia Emergency Management Agency to Department of Public Health to Health and Human Services — every department that Georgia has some of the finest people working on this day in and day out. I think we’re a very fortunate state that we’ve got really good people who put their best foot forward doing everything possible to not only limit the spread of this thing but help combat it on every front, including medical care and making sure that the people who have this disease are treated properly. I think that’s really important to distinguish.
I would also remind everybody that much like you’re getting advice right now, “Don’t look at your 401K, don’t look at your stocks,” and if you do, look and then look away real quickly and forget that you looked. It’s kind of the same thing with the news. Don’t read headlines. Don’t watch the news. It’s not going to serve you well. There is a certain amount of over-aggrandizing and headline appeal and editorial words that are being used that really don’t match what is going on. I’ve seen the word “apocalyptic” being used — that’s just utterly ridiculous. This is not the apocalypse. We’re going to beat this. The numbers are eye-popping, but it’s not that we can’t overcome them. The things that we’re seeing are huge challenges, but it’s not like there’s no light at the end of the tunnel. There is an end to this.
I can’t sit here and forecast and tell you when, but I do know that the work that we’re doing is going to get us there, and so from that standpoint, if you want information, there are places you can find it. The CDC website has it. There are websites out there that are reporting on this stuff accurately. But much of what you’re going to see on TV, from the major media outlets, they’re there for ratings and revenue and clicks. They’re not there to get you the most accurate, up-to-date information. So, the more you sit there, the more you’re in that pull, the more you’re going to find yourself frustrated with the information that you’re hearing. Just know that there are the right people out in front of this, and we’ve got the right leadership to fix this problem.
TM: This isn’t the first time you’ve been activated. You were stationed over in Iraq for two tours. What’s it like when you get that call activating you?
MZ: Sure, more recently, I’ve been called up by the Georgia Guard for hurricane response and other disaster relief that’s needed, whether it’s snowstorms or whatever it may be. As a guardsman, our first duty is to the state of Georgia and the citizens of Georgia, so from that standpoint, it’s definitely not my first rodeo as far as being called up. But you get the call, and it’s part excitement, part “here we go again” so to speak, but it’s to be expected. It’s what we signed up for.
Whenever that bell rings, it’s never something that I’m running from; it’s something that I’m running towards. If the opportunity is there for me to help serve my state and fellow citizens, then I want to be at the forefront of that. I enjoy these opportunities, and whether we’re in harm’s way or not I think is secondary to civilians and their welfare and their safety and their health, making sure they’re protected by us, because that’s part of our job.
TM: I know this isn’t something that’s easy for you or your family. What impact has this had on you and your boys, Dominic and Vincent?
MZ: There is a certain amount of fear because I am coming in contact with a large number of people a day. Folks at the state level are taking care to make sure that there’s a ton of sanitizing being done, temperatures are being taken, so I feel fairly secure that the people I’m working with are most definitively not infected. But being out in the public sometimes and the fear of bringing that home — we do our best to take precautions at home with showering and sanitizing and everything else. I’m comfortable, my family is comfortable with the job that I’m doing and being asked to do as far as our own safety and personal health and welfare.
I don’t really have many concerns from that standpoint. I just know that the risk is there. But again, the risk is there if I get called up for hurricane response or I get deployed to a foreign country in a war zone. It’s sort of accepted and understood, but it’s a little different when you’re also putting your family at risk, right? Like in a war zone, my family isn’t at risk, only I am. There’s a little bit of a different line there.
As far as my boys are concerned, they just know daddy goes to work every day and daddy comes home. Fortunately, in this scenario, I get to put my head on my own pillow at night and kiss my kids goodbye in the morning. They’re usually sometimes in bed by the time I get home, but that said, it’s kind of the nature of the work.
TM: Speaking of nature of the work, the NLL season is suspended until we feel there’s an appropriate and safe time to start getting everyone back together and resume play. How much are you missing Sting City and calling Swarm home games?
MZ: You don’t know what you got until it’s gone, right? You know what I miss more than anything? As much as calling the games, I miss watching the guys play. Lacrosse is such an amazing sport. It’s such a fast-paced, action-paced sport, and getting the privilege to watch the best players in the world do it at the highest level is something that I’m always appreciative of. The more and more I’m around the game, the more and more I love it. It not being there certainly is tough and frustrating.
I certainly feel for the guys themselves. For me, calling games, as much as I love it, it’s part of a job and work, but the guys who play this game, the passion they have for it, that is what I can empathize with. I have that same passion about calling games in general, but knowing that those guys aren’t able to play right now — I know they can go grab a stick and a ball and throw a ball up against the wall, but everybody knows that’s not the same as being out there and hitting and scoring goals and hearing the fans and everything else.
Just that rush, that excitement that is professional lacrosse and Georgia Swarm lacrosse is something that we’re all missing right now. Hopefully we can get it back sooner rather than later.
TM: What were your thoughts on the team this year?
MZ: I loved more than anything the development of guys like Shayne Jackson and watching him become a preeminent goal-scorer in this league. You kind of always knew he had that in his repertoire, and it’s really blossomed. I was fortunate enough to watch him in the outdoor game, and you saw it there. I really saw it come to fruition in the outdoor game, and he translated it into the indoor game, which is impressive to watch.
Randy Staats continues to be one of the most complete lacrosse players I’ve ever watched in my entire career. The way he passes and the way he shoots and how he makes everybody around him better — and all of this, it’s crazy to think Lyle Thompson is almost a secondary player, and the numbers sort of bear that out this year. That’s so odd to see that he’s not leading in any particular category for the Swarm, and he wasn’t hurt. He didn’t miss any games. That tells you how complete offensively this team is and how much they had the capacity to do it.
As far as championship aspirations, they were certainly in the discussion, but I did have a little bit of fear of how they were on the back end, the defensive end that sort of led to — you saw the collapse against Philadelphia. They sprinted out to that six nothing lead, and it fell apart. That was a little bit of a cause for concern for this team. I know that Eddie and the coaching staff knew that was something they had to focus on, that the offense was going to take care of itself.
Every year, you expect the Swarm to be in the championship conversation. I had no doubts that they were a playoff team. Sometimes when you get to the playoffs in lacrosse, you get a little bit of luck. You get the right matchup, you get the right game, the guys are all clicking on the same night, and you find yourself in a position to win a championship. But I believe the Swarm absolutely will be there.
TM: Listening to you talk about it is hitting home how much we all miss lacrosse right now. Before we go, is there anything you want to conclude with, a message for Swarm fans?
MZ: Whenever lacrosse comes back, make the Swarm part of your regular regimen. This is such an exciting team with great, young players. It is a great, passionate fanbase, and it’s only going to continue to grow. The more we can grow it, the bigger Sting City is going to grow. So, when we do come back, Swarm fans, come back with a vengeance.