ThE EARLY LEAD: Our chance to witness history is gone and it won’t be easy to digest
By BRANDON HURLEY
There’s no other way to describe last week’s news. It’s a crushing blow straight to the rib cage, one that knocked us to the mat.
The war against COVID-19 rages on as memories continue to fade, ones that we never had a chance to tell. It’s a tough fate to swallow.
Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds canceled the remainder of the school year Friday, April 17, simultaneously closing the books on a spring sports season that hadn’t yet begun. A decision on the softball and baseball seasons will likely be made next month, but it seems like we won’t see those, either.
A surreal moment that sadly, none of us will ever forget.
Ugh. We are witnessing some strange times, and unfortunately, there’s no handbook on how to handle this. It’s OK to be mad. Go ahead and cry, let the tears of frustration flow. This news, while necessary, should upset athletes and students across the state, and no one would blame you. You’ve worked hard, grinding through the cold Iowa winters and sticky summers for a shot at glory. You deserve to share your talents with fans, friends, parents and sportswriters alike.
We have all been robbed at a chance to witness history, a season that likely would have rivaled the most thrilling in Greene County history.
It’s such a confusing mess, to be honest. Will COVID-19 change sports forever? If not, how long will we need to abide by these new safety regulations? We very well could see extreme safety precautions prior to each contest, with health officials taking temperatures upon entry and new concession stand regulations. But then, as one digs deeper, you realize it would be impossible to practice social distancing at sporting events. You have massive lines for the bathrooms, lines to enter and leave the stadium, interactions with coaches and athletes,
How long will we need to be cognizant of this? Don’t get me wrong, I’m absolutely obsessed with sports and want them back as much as anyone, but we must be cautious and methodical in how we proceed. There are so many things to consider, and in the various communities that dot Greene County, boasting a strong population of older adults, COVID-19 is no joke. This could go on for a while and no one seems to have a solution at the ready.
With that being said, I really do feel sick for the local athletes. They are living through an era never before witnessed, but they certainly aren’t on the right side of history. The youth have been hit with a devastating blow of emotions, years and years of hard work and dedication dissolving in front of their eyes. And they can’t really do much about it. That’s not fun. We were gearing up for one hell of a spring season. And that’s what kills me most. We won’t have a chance to document the highs they spent years trying to perfect.
The Greene County girls’ and boys’ track and field teams were absolutely loaded with veteran talent, the boys’ side in particular was senior-heavy. It’s a crime that these kids can’t challenge the school record books.
Senior Carter Morton, Greene County school-record holder, was poised to make a charge at the high jump state title after placing a year ago while he had an outside shot of competing for gold in the hurdles. The resilient and injury-plagued Colby Kafer has broken all sorts of long jump records, and was primed to take aim at a state title in the long jump and perhaps even in a few sprints. When you add in the likes of Brent Riley and Jaxon Warnke and other veterans, the sprint relays had as good of shot as any in threatening the state’s best.
On the girls’ side, a slew of juniors are ready to assert themselves among the state’s elite. Brianna Osterson placed in both the Drake Relays and state long jump last spring, while she also provides a trusty anchor leg in several relays. It wouldn’t be hard to fathom her contending for a state title. Fellow junior Brooklynn Olson continues to make huge strides in both throwing events - she broke the indoor school record in the shot put in the season’s only track meet. The veteran wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to predict gold in either the shot put or discus, or hell, she could even pull a double dip. But with the way things are going now, we may never know how much history the Greene County track programs could make this year. A group of Greene County students were also selected to sing the National Anthem at the state track meet in May - that unique moment is no longer possible.
It breaks my heart that we won’t be able to hear the wonderful baritone voice of track announcer Mike Jay at either the Drake Relays or the state meet in May. He’s as passionate about the sport as anyone in the country, and as his level of excitement rises during each race, so does my heart rate. This spring won’t be the same without him.
Which leads me to my ode to the greatest soccer team in Greene County history that never was. The Rams boys’ were legitimately a state title contender as they began preparations for the 2020 schedule. They were tournament-tested squad, complete with one of the most prolific scorers in state history (Junior Gutierrez). The Rams showed they belong with Iowa’s elite last spring, taking three-time defending state champion Iowa City Regina to overtime in the first round of the state tournament. A ton of talent returned for the 2020 season in addition to Gutierrez’s double nickel, 55 goal total. He was going to be flanked by Luis Velazco, who was no slouch on the offensive end either a season ago, scoring 27 goals, while his younger brother Jose, was ready to provide unlimited potential as an incoming freshman.
Yunior Caballo anchored a stout defensive back line while Cael Fisher returns in goal after making 96 saves in 15 games a year ago. The list of returning guys goes on and on, they could’ve easily challenged their school-record goal total from a year ago of 107, and I for one hope they get to showcase what they can do. The 2020 Greene County soccer squad is truly one of the most talented units ever assembled in school history - across any sport - and it is a complete travesty that we cannot experience what they are capable of. Coach Carl Behne hinted at their maturity growth in the last few months, touching on how each one of his guys understands the game even more.
I, for one, was hoping to see if Gutierrez could challenge the single-season state record of 62 goals (set back in 2017) and where he’ll would’ve ended up on the state’s all-time career scoring list. The man is an absolute magician with the ball - we deserved to see him take the field again.
A state championship would’ve been the first team title for any Jefferson-based squad in any sport since 1994.
With that being said frankly, the safety of our society is the priority, and we must not refuse our ability to follow guidelines, even if it creates disappointment and sadness, especially for our local athletes.
If the world still does not have a vaccine or antidote once sports resume, how do we handle the COVID-19 outbreak when it occurs down the line? If a high school athlete tests positive following a recent match or competition, do all schools and athletes in attendance go into a two-week quarantine?
Let’s hope this Coronavirus passes soon, but it won't disappear if we all don’t do our part. Stay safe and keep your fingers crossed. We need some positivity in our lives, it’s hard to swallow what just happened. Don’t be afraid to take a few weeks to cope.