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Prep athletics on hiatus for next 4 weeks

IHSAA hopeful for a condensed spring season, baseball and softball could be affected

Webster City’s Ashlyn Hay sails towards the sand during the Class 3A long jump competition at the 2019 state track and field meet in Des Moines. Hay, a senior, is one of thousands of prep athletes across the state that saw her spring season put on hold on Monday due to the novel coronavirus. DFJ file photo/Troy Banning

WEBSTER CITY — Prep athletes find themselves in a holding pattern for the next four weeks as schools all across the state close in response to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic that has swept the country in the last week.

On Sunday, Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds recommended that all schools in the state close for four weeks in an attempt to curb the spread of COVID-19 and by that evening many schools had already announced their doors would be shut.

On Monday, Webster City Schools announced it will be closed until Monday, April 13. As of Monday evening, South Hamilton Schools had yet to formally announce its decision.

No school for four weeks also means no athletics or weight room activities. The Iowa High School Athletic Association and Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union both announced that all teams are prohibited from practice, competition and sanctioned activity until the school closures are lifted. There can also be no in-person contact between coaches or administrators with student-athletes.

Track teams were allowed to begin practice in February and some programs, Webster City included, competed in indoor meets as recently as Friday. Golf, soccer and tennis preseason practices were scheduled to begin on Monday, while soccer had a start date of Monday, March 23.

The first day of preseason baseball and softball practices remains set for May 4.

The one-month hiatus leaves the spring season in jeopardy for athletes across the state. IHSAA Communications Director Chris Cuellar says everyone is taking a wait-and-see approach during this unique time.

“We can’t make any decisions (on the future of the spring season) because all of our member schools are closed up and for good reason,” Cuellar said. “This is the information that is at our disposal at this time. We would like to provide a spring season and postseason for our schools and our kids, but just like the teachers and administrators, we have to wait and see.”

Cuellar said the governing bodies are considering the option of pushing the spring activities back. However, that could also mean an even busier period in late May when spring sports overlap with baseball and softball.

If pushing back state-sanctioned events, such as the state track and field meet that is currently slated for May 21-23, means that the start of baseball would have to be moved to a later date, Cuellar says that’s also something the IHSAA would consider.

“It’s not an idea situation for anyone, but if a condensed option presents itself, that’s something we have to consider,” Cuellar said. “The No. 1 priority right now is to have a spring season if that’s possible. I think it would be ill-advised just to think we’re going to have a regular, as-scheduled baseball season and then everybody in the spring misses out.”

Bob Howard, the Hall of Fame football coach at Webster City who was recently appointed as the school’s acting athletic director while Joe Shanks is on medical leave, says this is a surreal moment in his career that has spanned six decades.

“I’ve never seen anything like this … it’s an unprecedented thing and it’s very fluid,” Howard said. “The biggest issues before were things like snow days or taking school deeper into June. We’ve never had anything like this.”

Howard says he empathizes with the coaches and athletes who suddenly see their seasons in jeopardy. But he’s hopeful this can also serve as a teaching moment for coaches and a chance for the kids to learn.

“It’s hard to say keep things in perspective when it’s a kid like (WCHS senior) Garrett Whitmore, who has been training for the last six months for the anticipation of this (track and field) season, and you can take it exponentially across all sports, but how do you argue about it?” Howard wondered. “Athletics are supposed to teach handling adversity and things like that, and I don’t know what kids could have for a tougher lesson than this. I’ve challenged our coaches that we need to be the leaders of our programs and try to find something positive to help with learning perspective.”

Also on Monday, the Iowa High School Music Association and Iowa High School Speech Association suspended activities throughout the duration of the school closures. The IHSMA has canceled the Class 4A and 1A solo/small ensemble festival that was set for April 18, as well as the state large group festival scheduled for May 8-9.

The IHSSA all-state festival scheduled for March 30 has been canceled as well.

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