Future state events still on as scheduled despite COVID-19 scare
By MARK SCHAFER AND BRANDON HURLEY
Well, the spring season has been placed on hold before it really ever begun.
Iowa’s throng of high school athletics have been suspended for at least four weeks due to the impending threat of the respiratory illness COVID-19 or more commonly know, Coronavirus.
The decision, effectively immediately – which impacts all practices and game competitions for boys’ and girls’ – was announced In a joint statement from the Iowa High Athletic Association and the Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union Monday, March 16. The suspension of spring sports came after Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds recommended all schools in Iowa close for four weeks.
The hiatus will be in effect at least through April 10, with hopes of resuming competitions on Monday, April 13.
If – and when – things calm down, and everything can get back on track then, things for the spring sports situation in Iowa might not be as much in limbo as they seem right now.
“If everything goes according to plan then we have the current state tournament dates and we will use those,” Iowa High School Athletic Association Communications Director, Chris Cuellar said.
The IHSAA addressed the growing concerns over the COVID-19 pandemic Monday, issuing a suspension of all spring sports until April 13. This week was set to iniate the first scheduled practice for tennis, golf and boys’ soccer teams.
If schools are allowed to resume April 13, then practices will be allowed to begin. That would result in a shortened spring sports season, Cuellar said.
The various postseasons would go on as scheduled, with the state qualifying track meets starting on May 14, and the state track meet taking place from May 21-23 in Des Moines.
One good thing about the spring sports season is, for the most part, there aren’t many postseason events that need to happen in order to decide who goes to state. That means the season, if needed, can be tremendously shortened without impacting the state qualification process.
“Fortunately or unfortunately, three of four spring events go directly from the season to districts and then onto state,” Cuellar said. “Those three sports (golf, tennis and track) have no playoffs. Because of those formats they can deal with a shorter turnaround and a shorter season.”
Cuellar said that if COVID-19 had interrupted the football, basketball or baseball season, then it would create more problems because of the extended playoff times that those sports deal with.
Soccer is a sport that involves an extended playoff format. As of March 17, the state tournament is still scheduled for June 1,3 and 5 this year, Cuellar said.
“We’ve had discussions about what could happen,” Cuellar said if sports and schools aren’t ready to start on April 13. “Its a moving target. We have to wait and see.”
Because sports require time for practices, any delay from the April 13 could mean state tournaments may have to deviate from their planned dates.
If that happens, then the IHSAA will put contingency plans in motion.
“We’ve discussed (what would need to happen if we have to delay the spring sports further),” Cuellar said. “Nothing is firm in terms of our plans at this point. A lot of it is the venues we have the dates set aside so we can use those venues when we had them planned. If we had to move things around, we’d have to check with the availability of all the venues.”
Cuellar stressed that the IHSAA is planning on getting the spring sports season in, but because of the world situation, things may have to change rapidly.
In order for the sports suspension to go in effect, the four activities organizations in Iowa - the IHSAA, Iowa Girls Athletic Union, Iowa High School Music Association and the Iowa High School Speech Association – needed to be on the same page.
“We had to be coordinated, we couldn’t do one thing and have the Girls Union do another,” Cuellar said. “It has been really good to have everyone on the same boat. Hope it can be that way for everyone involved for the future.”
Above all, the state wants to see its athletes enjoy some spring action, even if it is a tad delayed. Baseball and softball, as of now, have not been affected since practices don’t typically begin until May.
“We want to give everyone their season,” Cuellar said. “We are still focused on spring. Baseball has a big lead into their season. We don’t want to have anyone miss anything. We don’t want to cancel spring and go into a full summer schedule. (We) hope to be able to get things going when we can.”
The announcement means Greene County’s Ram Early Bird Relays set for March 30 – their first outdoor meet of the season – has been postponed, with likely no time for a makeup.
The Greene County boys’ soccer and golf teams as well as the girls’ golf team were supposed to open practice Monday before the state decision was made while the girls’ soccer team was set to take to the practice field May 23.
The decision also affects the start of limited high school baseball practice, which was set to begin on April 1. All schedules have been thrown into absolute chaos. Coaches and athletes cannot interact in person during this for week layoff.
The state entities will address the continuance of sports prior to the April 13 return date by considering information from Governor Reynolds, the Iowa Department of Public Health as well as the Iowa Department of Education. The CDC has suggested gatherings of 50 or more people be canceled nation-wide for at least eight weeks.
That notion - if put into practice – would severely hamper the track and field season, as many track meets throughout the state see participation well over 50 athletes. And as far as golf and soccer are concerned – essentially only the coaches and athletes would be allowed to attend, with no spectators in attendance.
Simply put, this ban on Iowa high school activities could go well beyond the suggested four weeks. President Donald Trump added more fuel to the fire in his press conference Monday, recommending that citizens avoid gatherings of 10 or more people, which puts the hammer on any type of extra-curricular training or meetings.
The most high-profile event that stands in harm’s way is the 111th running of the Drake Relays – one of America’s most premier track and field events. The yearly, three-day collegiate and high school meet is set for April 22-25 in Des Moines, less than two full weeks after the return of sports. No decision has been made, but the annual Penn Relays – the nation’s oldest track and field event held in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania set for the same weekend as Drake – was canceled Monday. The Drake Relays could be not far behind.
The state-wide suspension has affected both the girls’ and boys’ track teams already, as Monday and Tuesday’s Iowa State Indoor Classic in Ames was canceled as was this coming Saturday’s indoor meet at Buena Vista University.
The adjustment period will be long and difficult. The Greene County girls’ soccer season was set to begin with a home-opener against Carroll Monday, April 6 while the girls’ golf team was going to travel to Carroll for their season-opener. The Greene County boys’ soccer team was going to host its home-opener Tuesday, April 7 against Humboldt. The Greene County co-ed track teams will no longer run at the Panorama meet set for April 7, either. The Greene County boys’ golf team was slated to open the season April 9 in Perry, but that no longer is ago.
Updates on the spring sports season can be found on the IHSAA website iahsaa.org or the IGHSAU website: ighsau.org, and in the Jefferson Herald.