Walk the walk
The pressure will be on Iowa to do the right thing — and get on the same page
One of the nation’s last live high school sporting events took place in Des Moines a little over two months ago. A total of 12 boys basketball programs — including Bishop Garrigan — played six contests to wrap up the state tournament on March 13 inside Wells Fargo Arena.
On Wednesday, Iowa’s governing bodies collectively took a historic step by giving the go-ahead for the start of a summer baseball and softball season. On June 1, prep athletes will return to the field for practice. Games are slated to start two weeks later.
No other state in the union spends its summers on the diamond, meaning young men and women in our own backyard will be the first in the country to test the waters of “normalcy” during a global pandemic. At this point, only Nebraska — which has moved prep baseball and softball to the summer months — is attempting a similar comeback with a comparable timeline.
There are, of course, dozens of questions and scenarios to address in the next 11 days. The preparation, the screening, the travel and the game-day activity will be incredibly difficult to navigate, and the season itself is going to be something like we’ve never seen before. These are unprecedented, unpredictable times. The entire COVID-19 situation is fluid to say the least, so prickly decisions — often in real time — lie ahead. That much is inevitable.
Given all of that, I stopped passing judgment a long time ago. I’m in no position to say what is “right” or “wrong” when it comes to attempting to play a sports season with so much going on around us. On one hand, it seems frivolous and premature. But it could also be argued that we desperately need something along these lines to happen and succeed.
So here’s where I stand today: instead of criticizing, or being adamant, or simplifying an incredibly complicated topic as some sort of back-seat columnist, I’m going to ask you — the fans, the parents, the coaches, the athletes and the communities in general — to display both patience and grace. It’s time we all took a modest step back, quieted ourselves some, and focused more on cooperation.
This is a true test of our ability to function together moving forward, through compromise and empathy. The entire country will be keeping an eye on Iowa, to see how or if it can be done given a high school fall sports season is — potentially — two months away.
If a kid or a family wants to opt out and stay home instead of competing, respect the decision. No one should be shamed or ridiculed if they skip this experiment. Some athletes have pre-existing conditions, or family members who are at serious risk. We don’t know everyone’s story. It’s their prerogative if they want to be better safe than sorry.
If a kid or a family is excited to try and make this work, respect the decision. We are trying to get to a point where we, as a society, “live” with this virus. The timeline for either medication or a vaccine is completely unknown. Like the economy, people are trying to cautiously find the right balance — and a new normal. It will take both planning and risk to do so in sports, whether we’re talking about high school ballfields in Iowa or Major League Baseball stadiums. After nine weeks, a significant portion of our country is ready to try and move forward.
Here’s the bottom line, though: if we can’t be decent about the process — working from each other’s strengths and keeping an open mind about ideas rather than dismissive or even combative — this isn’t going to work. And I’m not just talking about the summer sports season in Iowa. We have to be better about finding common ground, better about not politicizing our perspectives, better about rallying together to defeat the virus…just better.
This is an opportunity to turn our summer sports season into collaborative effort, and make Iowa a trendsetter in the fight for a future. Our leaders are being tasked with a prodigious responsibility. Players, coaches and fans have been clamoring for a campaign. Now that it’s been given the green light, the heavy lifting comes next.
We’re in uncharted territory. The only way we will find our way — in sports and in life — is by being more inclusive and coordinated when the pressure is on.
And the pressure is certainly on.
Eric Pratt is Sports Editor at The Messenger. He may be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @MessengerSports