Johnson County Supervisor Rod Sullivan plays catch with Daily Iowan reporter

Sullivan chatted with Board of Supervisors beat reporter Alejandro Rojas about topics ranging from how the county will remember pandemic life to racial issues while tossing a ball at Hubbard Park.


Daniel McGregor-Huyer

Johnson County Supervisor Rod Sullivan throws the ball to Daily Iowan reporter Alejandro Rojas during a game of catch in Hubbard Park on Sept. 28, 2022

Alejandro Rojas, News Reporter

Catch is a simple game where two people toss a ball back and forth to each other.

But the beauty of the game is that it allows two people to go out to a local park, toss a ball, and hold a casual conversation. Simplicity yields opportunity — such as the chance to create a unique connection.

And connections are what Johnson County Supervisor Rod Sullivan have been making through the game of catch.

Sullivan has visited local parks with anyone interested in meeting him to play catch since 2017. He uses the meetings as a chance to talk with different people from around the county.

On the afternoon of Sept. 28, I experienced the connection Sullivan offers firsthand by playing catch with him at Hubbard Park on the University of Iowa’s campus. This was our second meeting, having briefly met at a supervisor meeting the week before, but our first real conversation.

With the sun overhead and a gentle breeze to accompany it, we spent 40 minutes talking about anything and everything.

Sullivan began our meeting by asking me a series of questions, starting out by asking me who I am and where I’m from.  This quickly veered into a discussion of how we will reflect on our pandemic lives in the future.

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“I think it’s going to be really interesting in 20 years when historians go to write the history of these past few years. And, you know, people who were in your situation are going to be really interesting people to focus on, and so are the people who would have been in their kindergarten year and stuff,” Sullivan said.

After a bit, we moved on to a discussion about my family. I explained my family’s history, including my Latino heritage, leading us to a candid discussion on racial issues in the county.

Part of our discussion focused on the difficulty of being a minority in a place like Iowa and trying to find a place to belong. I spoke on picking a school like the UI for its diverse campus, and Sullivan described his daughter’s similar experience.

“My children are African American,” he said. “Only one of them went to college, kind of traditionally. But it was really hard for her to find a place that she, you know, growing up in a diverse town, she wanted that. And it was really hard to find. I know what you’re saying because she said the same things.”

By this point, there was a photographer with us, immortalizing our time. We shared a laugh knowing that captured time was nothing impressive in real time but could look amazing in stills.

“Yeah, in a still photo it looks like we’re really top of our game,” Sullivan said. “For all they know, I’m throwing it 90 miles-an-hour at you.”

“We look like the pinnacle of sports right now,” I joked.

To close out our time, we stopped playing and made our way over to a bench to finish talking. I then asked him why he agrees to play catch with people he doesn’t know.

“It’s interesting because I don’t know exactly what it is about the game of catch, but it lends itself really well to conversations. And you know, some of the people I’ve met have been like you. I really didn’t know them, and met them through catch,” Sullivan said. “But then there’s other people that I knew pretty well.And yet, I would learn something about them I didn’t know, almost without fail. So that’s just been pretty cool. I’m really glad I started this, and I hope people want to continue enjoying it.”