THE EARLY LEAD: Communication and respect will get us through the fall


Sports Editor


Transparency will be our saving grace this fall.
If we’ve learned anything from the men and women in charge at the government level these last few months it’s how we must communicate to avoid anger and resentment. That’s just one of the many layers we must peel back if contact sports are to resume.
We all deserve to know why changes are being made, especially when it affects our kids.
We must be diligent when attempting to begin the tricky sports of football, cross country. Practices are set to start statewide on Aug, 10, but that doesn’t mean we are in the clear. While it’s commendable the Iowa High School Athletic Association was proactive and altered the football schedule, trimming the regular season to seven weeks and assuring all teams - regardless of record - qualify for the playoffs, it’s odd how they released the information to the public. Greene County’s athletic department - including activities director Todd Gordon and head football coach Caden Duncan - learned of the news after a mass email was sent out to all media. Gordon certainly isn’t against the changes, just a heads up would’ve been appreciated.
“I was surprised,” he said. “We had no warning (the changes) were going to happen. It was handed to us on a Friday afternoon.”
Gordon said the IHSAA hadn’t even floated the idea out to any school districts, to his knowledge. And while he supports the alterations, the state didn’t give Greene County much time to digest the news before parents and players found out. That, and too little information was given, there’s still no clear path to keep students safe.
“We were hoping for a little more guidance from the association that is more consistent state wide,” Gordon said. “I realize it’s county to county, but it has to be more consistent.”
Gordon did acknowledge the athletic association’s promise to provide more guidance in the future, but when exactly that happens is unclear. At this moment, the Rams and their athletes are practicing social distancing as best they can.  
In a pandemic and academic year as unprecedented as this one, better lines of communication are a must. When safety is in question, delays cannot become the norm. No one can hide, and suggestions and questions must be met with respect and thoughtful consideration. Patience and understanding will only provide the proper aide to transparency.
If we want our kids to experience the thrill of high-level contact sports this year, we have to communicate. There’s no way around it, Gordon said. The fall sports calendar will be unlike any we’ve seen before, and we must remain flexible.
“There are going to be some inconveniences, and people will have to realize that, if we want our kids to have a season, then that’s what we will have to get used to.”
Piggybacking off Gordon’s comments, a clear and detailed plan must be in place for Iowa’s athletes and fans to remain safe. The message has to get out there, and questions must be asked, with reasonable answers provided in a reasonable amount of time. Coaches and athletes cannot be left to figure this out on their own.
The National Federation of High Schools is on board with this type of plan and execution. The country-wide organization held a question and answer session Monday, July 27 via Zoom, addressing many concerns and inquiries regarding the fall sports season in an initiative to promote transparency. Executive director Karissa Niehoff was adamant on keeping an open line of communications.
“Education, education, education,” she said. “Education in terms of interacting with parents and kids. Really understanding how your kids and families are feeling about coming back.
What’s the mood of the school and what’s it look like for every detail that’s in place? Getting information in your hands. Phasing in, really following those recommendations. We know there are states that have gone back to practices and I hope everyone is respectful.”
Niehoff even touched on Iowa’s decision to not only proceed with baseball and softball over the summer, but how they managed to remain fairly successful in their endeavors.
“i think the whole nation monitored the baseball and softball very closely,” Niehoff said. “As soon as they made the decision, I reached out and (both the IHSAA and the IGHSAU) sent back a very thorough process and procedures that was put in place as well as clear communication that it was optional for schools to participate.”
She believes the low positivity rate among the athletes was an encouraging sign. Less than seven percent of schools - both in softball and baseball, according to the IHSAA, had to either quarantine the team or saw a player test positive.
“Iowa has managed to go ahead and implement two successful sports seasons and presented strategies to go forward,” Niehoff said. “We have not heard of any spread in connection to the sports. There weren’t any contact tracing spread that we heard of.”
This is certainly a step in the right direction. School districts and organizations should be applauded when they not only abide by the recommended guidelines for fans and athletes, but also when they keep the positive cases at bay. Niehoff is right in saying the season was a success. There were no massive outbreaks that swept through a conference or a region, and to our knowledge, no others suffered crippling side effects when contracting COVID-19.
Now, being completely honest, there’s no way to document how many fans spread the disease among themselves and brought it back home to their families. Spectators could be part of the problem for why Iowa continues to see a rise in positive cases, but there really isn’t a strategy to determine where the disease may have spread.  
Football, as a whole, is an entirely different beast in comparison to baseball and softball. Those sports are generally non-contact competitions. Opponents can distance themselves fairly well despite a few meetings between the first basemen and base runner as well as the batter and catcher. Other than that, they aren’t even close to each other.
When football enters the discussion and its natural object to tackle the ball carrier in addition to blocking yelling from the coach, there’s a high probability for spread. Cross country can very well become a danger as well. Large groups of runners often congregate inches from each other at the start of each meet. That likely is going by the wayside. Even in volleyball, close contact occurs near the near and various hands touch the ball every point. That could become a problem.
With all these questions, now is the time for proper and quality leadership, from the state organizations on down. After guidelines are released, it is the job of each school district to make sure they are not only implemented, but the message is shared with everyone involved. Like we’ve been preaching for months, now is our chance to come together and unite for athletes all over. We must set an example and not only share our words of wisdom, but to lead by example. To that notion, we must respect the decisions that are made on and off the playing field. If a district doesn’t feel comfortable subjecting their students to the potential of COVID-19, then that’s their right. There’s also no benefit to arguing against the guidelines that we will soon see, especially if that is how we get sports back. We must do everything we can to abide by the new rules and regulations. It’s the only way to keep everyone safe.

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