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Much different look to upcoming winter season

Messenger photo by Britt Kudla Tory Bennett of Fort Dodge drives to the basket against Webster City in a scrimmage last year at Hodges Fieldhouse.

As the Thanksgiving holiday approaches, Fort Dodge Senior High athletic and activities director Kevin Astor believes now is a perfect time to step back and appreciate the good.

With the COVID-19 global pandemic surging in Iowa, the 2020-21 winter sports season is undoubtedly on thin ice. Currently, 12 of the 18 schools in the Central Iowa Metro League are conducting classes virtually only and — at least at the moment — unable to participate in athletics or activities.

Girls basketball practice started for the Dodgers last week. Boys basketball, wrestling, swimming and bowling are now under way as well.

The who, what, when and where of the schedule, though, remains to be seen.

“This isn’t an ideal situation for anyone, obviously,” Astor conceded. “It’s tough. I’m not pretending otherwise, and a lot of people are going to be disappointed by (the rules and regulations) put in place. With that being said, there are a lot of kids who missed out on spring sports and activities entirely (last year) who would give anything to still have some semblance of a season.”

All high schools in Iowa were assigned a set of restrictions for the weeks to come. According to Gov. Kim Reynolds’ proclamation on Monday, face coverings will be required at all events through at least Dec. 10. Spectators are required to practice social distancing, and only two people are allowed to attend a game or meet per student-athlete. No general admission tickets will be sold, and vouchers aren’t available at all for students involved in cheerleading, dance, band or other complementary activities.

In addition, middle school sports and activities have been indefinitely paused.

“It’s hard,” Astor said, “but we have to respect what is being asked of us and go from there. The positivity rate is just too high. We made it through the fall season relatively unscathed, but given where we’re at with the virus and everything else, this is the reality of the situation. It’s important that we make the most of it and take a glass half-full approach.”

Astor realizes a limited crowd “is going to leave a lot of tremendous Dodger fans and supporters on the outside looking in.”

“We’ll do our best to provide other avenues to watch and follow along,” Astor said. “I really feel for grandparents and other family members especially who won’t be able to attend these events, as well as parents of cheer, dance, band and other activities.

“We receive such terrific support from our community with everything. We would love to have people back in our gyms, our pools and our theaters. Hopefully we’ll get back to that place sometime soon.”

As of Tuesday, Fort Dodge’s first scheduled athletic event is Dec. 3 — a home wrestling dual against Southeast Polk. A varsity basketball doubleheader is slated for the next night versus Waukee.

“Scheduling has been a challenge to say the least,” Astor said. “(CIML ADs) are meeting on Thursday to discuss the situation and see what else can be done. It’s a fluid situation to say the least.

“Both the summer and fall sports schedules were reduced, so we’re looking at the same thing here. We’ll do what we’re able to, but having options is better than postponing or even canceling the season.

“It’s important to be thankful for what we have.”

Fort Dodge students are currently in a hybrid model of learning, with in-person classes twice a week and at-home learning for the rest.

“The kids have stepped up and done an awesome job,” Astor said. “They’re following the rules and making the necessary adjustments. And this isn’t just about sports — cheer, band, dance and color guard all have competitions and meet as often as possible under these unusual circumstances to prepare. They do what they can. Activities are an important part of the high school experience…as long as we are allowed to, we will continue to keep going, safely and respectfully.

“We’re taking everything day by day.”

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