THE EARLY LEAD: As sports return, we have an obligation to fulfill
By BRANDON HURLEY
Now is our time to lead. A chance to quarterback the Great Comeback, to pass the baton to the latest and greatest generation. These next few months could lead to significant ramifications lasting long after the fact.
The temptation is there. I get it. We can see the end, we hope. There’s no doubt about it, life needs a bit more normalcy. But how far are we willing to go?
I’m not going to pretend I’m mightier than thou, or I deserve some type of medal. I haven’t lived the perfect “Great Quarantine” life, and I sometimes slip a little. Ok, maybe more than a little. A new routine doesn’t come easy, though it’s necessary. With Iowa’s summer sports taking center stage in a few short weeks, allow me this opportunity to urge us all to be careful. This pandemic - the Coronavirus, COVID-19 or how ever you want to view it, still is a danger to us all. The deaths still arrive daily in a terrifying onslaught - 21 Iowa residents passed Wednesday, May 27 alone. We still are fighting.
When game day arrives June 15 and softball and baseball athletes take the field for the first time since the pandemic began, I may be a little weary. I trust most people in Iowa are good, but how far will that take us? There’s a strong possibility this pandemic isn’t going away soon, so we must work together, even as we attempt to return to normal life.
We can’t forget what is happening. The resumption of summer sports is not an excuse to go back to way things were before the outbreak. We still have to wait this thing out and be careful. It’s still out there.
Trust me, I’m the biggest sports nut there is, but even I’m a little skeptical for a return at the high school level. Let’s not forget, the athletes on these ball diamonds next month will be kids. That’s not to say they aren’t intellectually equal to us - as many of them certainly are - but it’s asking a lot from a group of students who already had their graduations, proms and spring sports wiped away. In no way am I saying that we shouldn’t trust these young men and women, as we most definitely should, we just need to remain cautious and offer them proper guidance. Many will be thrilled to get back to some type of normalcy when practices begin next week, regardless, it’s not on us to scold others on how they are going about their daily lives. It’s our duty to make sure our own individual self is practicing safety. We can ask others to join us, but hold off on the criticism.
The summer sports schedule is going to be met with some skepticism, there’s no doubt. But as Certified Master Athletic Administrator and Iowa High School Athletic Directors Association executive board member Todd Gordon said, now is our chance to come together. We need to set the example and only worry about what we can control - our actions.
“We’ve got to respect everybody’s opinion and know that there may be some kids and families who don’t want to participate, and that’s fine. That’s going to be their decision,” Gordon said, who’s also the Greene County activities director having previously spent a stint as AD at Des Moines Roosevelt and Carlisle. He’s also coached basketball and golf at Manning. He believes once games do begin, any prior grudges or ill-will needs to slip by the wayside. Now is our chance to support our student athletes while also pushing to protect everyone involved.
“I hope they’re at a point where they will be very cooperative because they’re probably the ones who are excited to have us play and they’ll hopefully do what we ask them to do to stay safe and to keep others safe,” Gordon said. “We’ve got to follow guidelines that are going to be given to us.”
The key is getting every school, each fan and all athletes on the same page together, communicating in the same language, so to speak. That’s the simplest way to avoid a disaster or any type of an outbreak. When it boils down, high school athletics are about allowing young adults the chance to participate in a sport they love among their friends and peers.
Iowa has an opportunity in front of them. As many pundits and observers have pointed out, we will be the first state to return to high school or any type of contact sport in the entire nation. We are now under an intense microscope, one that could become quite painful if we don’t handle this re-awakening with class and respect.
Major League Baseball, the NHL and the MLB are all still on hold as well. There’s not much out there as far as sports go. The only major professional sport taking place right now is NASCAR, and that’s probably the safest sport, in relation to COVID-19.
We are now the premier showcase.
June 15, 2020 will be a monumental moment in our history. Athletes all over the state will descend on their familiar diamonds, prepared to kick-start their competitive juices. We have no other choice but to hit it out of the park and provide a glimpse into how Iowans operate. It’s also a chance to bring sports back to their purest form, a return to the days when they were originally discovered - for the simple pleasure of fun and excitement.
“I think we can show people what can happen when communities really get behind what education-based athletics should be and that’s about the kids,” Gordon said. “It’s about the kids participating. Hopefully through this, because we’ve missed so much, we just appreciate the opportunity to have our kids out there playing and we will go to the necessary lengths we have to let them participate. Maybe we appreciate that a little bit more over the next month and a half.”
A resumption of summer sports, no matter if it’s 15 games, 35 or 5, is a gift. In a way, these next two months are an experiment whether we can return to more contact sports such as football, basketball and wrestling. There’s a lot at stake on the diamond, and it’s no longer just about wins and losses. It’s about saving lives and returning to normal.
“We’re doing this not only for ourselves, we’re doing (it) for a lot of people in a lot of different states, too,” Gordon said.
Here’s our chance to show our kids, our students and opposing fans how we define “Iowa Nice.” There’s no room for fighting now.
“To show leadership and cooperation through this is going to be paramount,” Gordon said. “Let’s be the model.”