Opinion: Let’s play ball

Spring athletes in their senior year were robbed of their last chance to compete, and that may have been avoidable.


Katina Zentz

Newly-elected Iowa House Speaker Pat Grassley, R-New Hartford, speaks at the Iowa State Capitol on Monday, January 13, 2020. The House convened and leaders in the Iowa House of Representatives gave opening remarks to preview their priorities for the 2020 session.

Jason O'Day, Opinions Columnist

High school athletics are a crucial thread in the social fabric that binds our state, and our country, together as a whole. They are even more important than professional sports because young adults glean life lessons that could never be found in a classroom. There is an irreplaceable bond among players, coaches, and fans in the community.

High school junior and senior spring athletes missed out on a pivotal opportunity to showcase their skills to NCAA recruiters. Many have dedicated their formative years to preparing for their varsity season.

Tom Keating, executive director of the Iowa High School Athletic Association, said, “This cancellation comes out of an abundance of caution for the well-being of all.”

The decision seems to have been made a little more on the side of paranoid fear than abundant caution. Keating also pointed out that continuing with the season would mean teams from different parts of the state. “What we lose in money is nothing compared to what the kids lose in memories,” he acknowledged.

All four Iowa spring sports: track & field, tennis, soccer, and golf are played outside which significantly reduces risks. Golf and tennis are especially amenable to social distancing. For both Iowa boys and girls, track and field ranked as the second highest sport in participation last season.

Professional baseball leagues in South Korea and Taiwan offer a model of how American high schools could’ve done spring sports. There were no fans present and players wore face masks.

It’s not just sports. The Iowa High School Mock Trial Tournament was also canceled. Nixing prom dances was probably the most reasonable of these cancelations, but it’s still unfortunate that teenagers are being deprived of what should be some of the best times of their young lives.

“Even if we are going to run in college, this was our last year with our team, with our coach, and in our Saber uniforms,” Central Dewitt Senior Crystal Burke lamented. “It breaks my heart to not have my senior track season.”

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said that if his harshly restrictive policies save just one life, they will have been worth it. Many share this mentality and it’s childishly absurd. By that logic all speed limits should be dropped to 20 mph, bathtubs banned to prevent drowning, and everyone forced to wear hazmat suits for the rest of eternity to prevent communicable diseases.

Living fulfilling lives, and crafting public policies that allow individuals the freedom to live them, requires calculated risks and tradeoffs. That risk should be balanced with the prudence of social distancing to the extent it’s necessary in these times, but Americans also can’t hide from a virus in perpetuity.

This shutdown has been painful enough for Iowa teenagers, and the curve has already been flattened. In a press conference Wednesday Gov. Reynolds said that sports gatherings of more than 10 people will be prohibited for at least another two weeks, until May 27. She should amend these restrictions so that high school baseball and softball players can start having practice now and playing games as soon as possible.