It has been 72 days since one of the nation’s last live high school sporting events transpired, the Iowa Class 4A boys’ state basketball championship game in Des Moines.
Since that Friday night in mid-March, high school complexes, diamonds, courts and stadiums have been empty. Students have missed out on a wealth of opportunities — extra-curricular activities, prom, banquets and even graduation ceremonies — because of COVID-19.
Nobody is certain when, or if, we’ll return to “normalcy,” but one of the first steps came this past week when Gov. Kim Reynolds and Iowa’s high school governing bodies gave the green light for a summer season.
Iowa already was unique for being the only state in the country to offer summer baseball and softball.
Now, Iowa is an experimental case for the rest of the nation on how high school sports function in the midst of a global pandemic. Practices begin June 1 and competition starts June 15 under a set of guidelines.
There is plenty of risk and an abundance of questions.
Are we jumping back into this too soon? Are enough precautions in place? What will busing look like? Will there be enough umpires willing to work? How are coaches supposed to police all the regulations? How will social distancing be implemented in dugouts and in the crowd?
Those are just a few.
Suffice to say, this condensed season is going to be like nothing any of us have witnessed before. We’re living in unprecedented and unpredictable times.
This isn’t about passing judgment on whether Iowa should or should not be playing on diamonds across the state this summer.
You could make the argument we’re rushing into this prematurely and the plethora of obstacles aren’t worth putting individuals in danger for what will amount to a five- or six-week season.
Conversely, we need to begin the healing process and this can be part of the solution if executed correctly.
Baseball and softball are probably the safest sports to achieve that.
There aren’t hundreds of fans piled into a cramped gymnasium. The majority of athletes, with the exception of the batter, catcher and home plate umpire, are spread out across the diamond. The amount of contact is limited compared to football, basketball, wrestling or soccer.
It also gives administrators and state officials a chance to take notes and see what guidelines must be implemented for a potential fall season.
Regardless, cooperation and patience are necessary to pull this off.
There is no blueprint for conducting high school sports in a pandemic. It is simple to Monday morning quarterback this all summer, but this is an opportunity for schools, communities and the state to unite.
If a school district, family, umpire or a teenager declines to participate, it shouldn’t be ridiculed. There is no shame in sitting the summer out, especially with the daily uncertainty of this virus.
The school board at Belmond-Klemme — located about 35 miles southwest of Mason City — voted several days ago not to have baseball and softball teams this summer. I’m sure there will be other districts that join them between now and June 1. We must respect that decision.
It is important we respect those that are eager to step inside the white lines and make this work, too. After two-plus months of silence on the high school scene, a majority of folks are ready to hit play again.
To do that, everyone must be smart and cognizant of their surroundings.
Adhere to the precautions that are in place, even if you’re a teenager who feels invincible to this virus or hasn’t had any family or friends directly impacted by it in the past two months.
It will take a collaborative effort — players, coaches, umpires, fans and administrators — for this to work. If we refuse to follow the guidelines established by the Iowa Department of Education and the state associations, it can be snatched away quickly.
We've seen enough of that dark cloud the past 10 weeks.
Sure, game day will look and feel different. There might not be high-fives or hugs exchanged after a game-winning hit or a dogpile in front of the pitcher's mound to celebrate a championship.
This is an opportunity for Iowa to be a leader and thrive under pressure.
If Iowa can make it work, we'll be a step closer to normalcy.
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