During our coronavirus-fueled isolation, we’ve all seen some things, especially if we’ve been pulled into the online equivalent of a meeting, the Zoom call.
It doesn’t matter if it’s really Zoom or some alternative, such as Google Duo, Microsoft Teams, GoToMeeting or any of the other options out there to put video of one another on a screen so we can pretend we’re together.
Then you see something funky. Maybe it’s the guy obviously reading email instead of paying attention to the content. Maybe it’s the shirtless boy who showed up for an online class. In some cases, it’s just people who clearly don’t understand we can see them, as they grab a booger out of their nose or have someone run by wearing just underwear.
But sometimes the surprises aren’t so bad. Mark Light, the 4-H Youth Development Education in Hardin County for OSU Extension, was just about to leave an online socialization with dozens of colleagues around 9:30 p.m. Saturday, April 18 with colleagues around the state. Moments later, country superstar Brad Paisley joined them in their call, asking them about how they’re handling their social distancing and if they knew anyone who had COVID-19 or anyone who died from the virus.
“It was surreal,” said Light, 47, a Leipsic graduate now living in Ada. “Somebody made the comment, ‘This makes all the 5,000 Zooms we’ve had to endure this year worth it.’
“… This probably wouldn’t have ever happened if this pandemic hadn’t come in place, with everybody hunkered down in their homes.”
A few minutes later, they were surprised by another familiar face on their call. Former NFL quarterback Peyton Manning also joined the call, with the name “William Thompson” below him on the screen. (William Oxley Thompson was the president of Ohio State University for 26 years in the early 1900s. It’s unclear if Manning did that on purpose, since his wife Ashley’s father is named Bill Thompson.)
Before long, Manning and Paisley were trying to sing the jingle together for Nationwide Insurance, for which they star in commercials.
The call wasn’t a complete surprise. Paisley, a three-time Grammy Award winner, posts a number to text him, and he asked for Zoom parties to crash that Saturday. Most of the 30 to 40 4-H educators for the call sent in texts, using their knowledge of Paisley’s past.
“We knew from our research that Brad Paisley had been a 4-H member in West Virginia,” Light said. “We didn’t just text a link saying, ‘Come to our event.’ We texted and said it’s a group of Ohio 4-H professionals, and we knew Brad was in 4-H, so please come join us.”
Still, he knew the odds were against them.
“It’s kind of like buying a lottery ticket, you never expect to win the lottery,” he said. ” For us, we kind of won the lottery that night. It boosted our spirits. We know that everybody’s going through this together, and everybody’s dealing with it the best way they can.”
Light, sitting at home like so many of us, shared the moment with his family.
“I was an instant hero at home,” he said. “They laughed it off that I was going to be successful, then I walked out to the living room and told them, ‘Brad’s getting ready to get on our call.’”
Light, who has worked with OSU Extension for 14 years, including the last 10 years in Hardin County, knows Zoom calls have a negative reputation. In his line of work, though, he’s seen some positives from it, holding meetings online to help kids stay on course with their fair projects. They’ve even been able to introduce some new clubs that cross the traditional county lines between 4-H programs, including a STEM program this year, short for science, technology, engineering and math.
“It’s been an opportunity for some innovation and sharing across the state,” Light said.
But few Zoom meetings will ever top the excitement of having Paisley pop up on their screens. The educators lured Paisley, a big football fan who admits to cheering for the Cleveland Browns, into joining in OSU’s O-H-I-O cheer. Paisley even got everyone to join him in singing the chorus of his catchy new song, “No I in Beer”:
“We’re all in this together. To me it’s all so clear. Drinking ought to be a team effort. There is no I in beer.”