THE EARLY LEAD: The necessary steps required for a smooth winter
By BRANDON HURLEY
These next few months, even though it’s been a bit of a rocky start, are doable.
Like the fall and summer athletic windows before, an intense amount of patience is required. But as those sports have taught us, high school athletics are possible, even during a global pandemic.
With that said, we must abide by a few extra precautions. Things have worsened since we last saw players smacking doubles on the diamond or blowing past the goal line out on the gridiron.
The Iowa High School Athletic Association and the Iowa Girls’ High School Athletic Union as well as communities throughout the state are trying their damnedest to protect the student athletes, coaches and everyone else involved.
Even Iowa governor Kim Reynolds has stepped up to the plate, taking a few spirited cuts, limiting fans at all winter sporting events to just two spectators per athlete. That meant last Saturday’s basketball opener against Ogden was going to be a tad unusual, and indeed, things were strange. Greene County’s first three games earlier last week - both boys and girls - were cancelled due to either local online learning restrictions or as in Roland-Story’s case, an outbreak at another school.
The Dec. 5 doubleheader in Jefferson was the first time, locally I must add, that I was required to introduce myself by name and what publication I work for as I entered the new Greene County High School. And rightfully so, the district is keeping an incredibly close eye on who comes and goes - there’s no room for a slip up, for someone to spread COVID-19 to unsuspecting athletes. I respect the diligence. The atmosphere was a little more strange than usual, obviously due to the lack of fans. It was quiet. The opening tip-off and free throws were the weirdest and the on-court interactions and the huddle discussions were much more noticeable, short of hearing every spoken word. Benches were more spread out, with chairs staggered in multiple rows. Most athletes, if not all, were wearing masks while sitting on those chairs. A Greene County faculty member was even sitting at the entrance of the gym to make sure folks were abiding by guidelines. While it was an unusual game day, it was refreshing to see. And once the games began, things were fairly back to normal. Of course, offense wasn’t exactly on display, which was to be expected for a pair of basketball programs short on practice and long on anticipation, but it was a treat for all.
Greene County actives director Todd Gordon said a successful winter season, free of any massive outbreaks or shutdowns, depends on everyone’s ability to remain consistent and their willingness to abide by the various rules and regulations.
“Stay diligent, stay after it, stay the course and don’t become complacent,” Gordon said as winter practices began last month. “It’ll be day-by-day, week-by-week and you hope the kids take care of theirselves.”
Gordon acknowledged the big concern with wrestling, but actual time spent on the mat with opposing athletes is limited, all things considered. The CDC has suggested that citizens likely only become infected with COVID-19 if they’ve been in contact with a sick person for 15 minutes or longer. Most wrestling matches last six minutes or less, with many not even making it into the second period. With the safety protocols in place at the high school, including constant sanitation, and respect of the guidelines, Greene County wrestling coach Zach Beekman believes the Rams can stay safe. The Rams are holding practices in the old middle school gym, which allows for much more spacing than a wrestling room. Sanitizing is a significant emphasis, and the coach is constantly urging his athletes to stay cautious outside of school.
“I feel good about it. They’ve done fairly well within our practice room. Hopefully they understand the implications of their decisions outside of the wrestling room,” Beekman said. “You try to preach to them and if they don’t make the right decision, it can effect the whole team.”
Beekman feels an accountability starts with the veterans. They have to make sure they are setting the proper example, and the rest will hopefully take care of itself. These young athletes must realize they are blessed to have a chacne to wrestle this year, the coach said.
“Those seniors have been out for wrestling for years, they want to have a season. It’s their last time. As much as we hate wearing a mask, we are fortunate enough to not wear them at practice,” Beekman said. “Our wrestling room has to be our sanctuary. It shows everyone this is serious. It’s a big deal. Everybody has to align. The only way we wrestle is if we do what we need to.”
Now that the winter season is in full swing, it’s necessary to elaborate on how the state of Iowa and Greene County as a whole plan to make these events as successful – and safe – as possible. Of course, more cancellations and postponements are likely to occur. We’ve had a handful already (the Rams’ basketball games with Perry and Roland-Story were each postponed to later dates while the matchup with Ogden was originally slated for Nov. 30). Heck, the Greene County wrestling team hasn’t even competed in a meet yet. That’ll change tonight (Thursday, Dec. 10) as they travel to Adel followed by a weekend tournament Saturday in Ogden.
In the following paragraphs, I’ll detail a few things to consider when attending or discussing high school athletics over the next few months.
The IHSSA and IGSHAU released a joint document depicting the concern over online vs. in-person learning in relation to athletic participation. If a school district is fully online with no in-person classes, just as the case was in the fall, athletics will not be allowed.
“In-person sports and other activities can continue on the Saturday before the Monday the school district returns to some form of in-person learning, which also includes a hybrid model,” the release on the IHSAA website said. “The hybrid learning model does not require 50 percent in-person instruction in order for sports to take place, as long as course learning is not completely online and off-campus.”
The Iowa Department of Public health no longer requires exposed citizens to quarantine if the infected and potential exposed person both were wearing some type of face covering. This, in itself, is a win for athletes.
REGULATIONS FOR SHARED EQUIPMENT
The host school will sanitize and supply the game ball as well as sanitize and provide basketballs for warm-ups at each basketball game this winter. Separate ball racks should be designated for home and away teams. The basketball should also be sanitized by the host school during timeouts and between quarters.
Cloth face coverings, including neck gaiters, are allowed during play. Coaches and players on the bench are recommended to wear face coverings, but aren’t required. Players should also sanitize their hands before and after warm-ups and during timeouts as well as at quarter and half-time breaks or any other time which requires an athlete to leave the court.
The Iowa High School Athletic Association recommends holding wrestling meets this winter with three teams or less, though weekend tournaments are still allowed. Mats are required to be cleaned between each dual match and after the competition is over. Teams cannot shake hands after a meet.
For tournaments, mat cleaning is required following each round or team match. Weigh-ins are encouraged to be held in a larger area, such as in a gym or a wrestling room, gathering athlete’s weights through a multitude of available scales.
Wrestling practices are even more restricted. The state encourages teams to host daily workouts in pods of four to five wrestlers, urging those same groups to practice with each other throughout the season to cut down on contract tracing. Regular breaks prior to any session lasting more than 15 minutes are encouraged to sanitize the mats and hand-washing.
In order to cut down on the size of groups and potential, the IHSAA asks teams to consider hosting multiple practices per day.
It certainly won’t be an easy winter by any means, but we can make it through. As we’ve done so over the last six months, perseverance and a dedication are our saving grace.
The Rams wrestling program recently had its delayed season-opener delayed again. The Dec. 10 triangular in Aded was postponned due to concerns within the ADM program. The Rams now will open the season Saturday at Ogden. The boys’ and girls’ basketball teams return home Friday to host PCM.