IHSAA director says state learning from COVID

Keating says state won’t flip sports season unless they are told fall sports can’t happen in the fall.

BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
PCC EDITOR

DONNELLSON – Iowa was the only state in the country to open up high school sports this summer and the head of the Iowa High School Athletic Association said it’s been a summer to remember.

Tom Keating, Executive Director of the IHSAA, was in town for the Central Lee -Van Buren Class 2A District 10 semifinal game Tuesday night in Donnellson and said, looking around the crowd of people gathered for the event… “This is Iowa.”

With very few people wearing masks, bleachers full yet slightly spaced, and lawn chairs spread around the baseball field, Keating said Iowans needed to get out.

KEATING

“The first thing I see is kids connected back to something they love as well as connected back to their schools,” Keating said.

“They’ve been away from that community since April and to get reconnected and be back in touch with teammates and classmates – I think is a great thing.

“The other thing I see is – this is Iowa, right? It’s summer. There’s baseball, people in camping chairs and just out for a great night. And you know, I think people are being responsible. I don’t think anyone is really out of line here. It’s a nice crowd and they are doing their best to stay apart.”

Keating spent the day Tuesday looking at district facilities with Central Lee Superintendent Dr. Andy Crozier. Crozier serves on the IHSAA Board of Control. Keating says he likes to get around to see the board member’s school districts.

“I spent the day with him and learned a lot of about this district. We saw the construction project here, and I think that really shows what this community thinks about its kids,” Keating said.

With Iowa taking the much-debated position of opening summer sports under some recommendations from the IHSAA in conjunction with the Iowa Department of Public Health, Keating said he’s been pleased with the vigilance of the high school programs.

He said he’s seeing and hearing that coaches, administrators and players are embracing guidelines and doing what it takes to keep the players safe. The programs that did suffer disruptions of the season due to the coronavirus, encountered the virus from outside the programs.

“About 5% of the programs experienced some loss of the season and that’s not terrible. There were 15 baseball teams and 15 softball teams so that’s 30 teams out of 600 programs – that’s a pretty good number,” Keating said.

“And what we’ve noticed is that the programs that have had to shut down for a while because of positive cases – those all came from outside the program. So the things that were put in place, and the things these guys are making happen, are working.”

Going forward, Keating said the association is taking notes on the season and looking at what can be integrated with policies and guidelines that will help the state to navigate prep sports in the future.

He said common sense changes like regular cleaning of equipment, keeping sanitizer close, and encouraging athletes to wash hands more frequently is something that may become part of regular guidelines.

One lesson he said the association is learning from the summer is the importance of discipline and diligence in their messaging.

“The second thing we learned,” he said a bit tongue-in-cheek, “was maybe we should have told everybody to quarantine the kids except when they come to the ballpark. Because if they’re getting it, it’s from somewhere else.”

With football practices gearing up around the state, and number of tests and positive results climbing in the state, Keating said there’s been discussion around the country of flipping football and track seasons this school year. But he said the directors across the country, with the exception of New Mexico, aren’t flipping that switch unless they’re told there’s no other choice.

On July 9, New Mexico’s Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham ordered the state’s fall contact sport season, including football and soccer, canceled. The New Mexico Activities Association, which governs high school sports, announced shortly after that those sports would be played in the spring, a move much more suited for the southwest, than the Midwest.

“What I would tell you is that we’ve looked hard at many scenarios for the fall and until we have no options for fall sports to be in the fall, we won’t look that way,” Keating said.

“I was on a call today with executive directors from around the country, and with the exception of New Mexico, no one is considering flipping seasons.”

Keating said the move is more complex than people realize and would place heavy burdens on already-taxed activities directors around the state to create schedules.

“That’s a piece of it. But the other piece is let’s suppose we flip football and track. The message we’re sending is that we care more about the safety of football than track. And, if we do that and for some reason things have to shut down again, then track loses to seasons in a row.

“No one of those things is a reason to say, ‘Let’s not do it’, but you put them all together and boy, that’s a tough move. That’s why most executive directors are feeling like – unless we’re told we can’t do our fall sports in the fall, we’re going to do everything we can to try and make that happen.”

Keating is a native of Philadelphia and has been a teacher coach, and administrator in Iowa for more than 40 years. He was named Executive Director of the IHSAA in 2019.

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