Prep Football

Coaches eager, wary as Iowa high school fall sports prep begins

Cedar Rapids Kennedy head coach Brian White talks to his players after the first quarter of their game at Kingston Stadi
Cedar Rapids Kennedy head coach Brian White talks to his players after the first quarter of their game at Kingston Stadium in Cedar Rapids on Friday, Oct. 4, 2019. (Andy Abeyta/The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — Brian White is optimistic. Perhaps he is seeing things more with his heart, which is all right.

Though it was an unfair question to ask the Cedar Rapids Kennedy head football coach, considering the complete uncertainty and fluidity of everything coronavirus right now, it was asked anyway. And answered.

Right here, right now, does White believe there will be a 2020 season for his school and everyone else’s school in the state?

“I feel good about things,” he said. “I think baseball is helping us out. I believe that we’re going to go to school, I think all these protocols you see in place for baseball right now will be implemented for football.”

So that is one yes vote.

“I think there’s going to be a big part of our community that is going to be very upset about us playing football,” White continued. “They are going to say we are putting kids at risk. I’m not a doctor, so I have no comment on that at all. I truly don’t know. I coach football, and I teach U.S. history.

“There are people that are going to get sick, there are teachers in the buildings that are at risk. But I personally think we’re going to line up and play football.”

The Iowa Department of Education is allowing schools to begin all sporting activities starting Wednesday, with safety guidelines in place. That means strength and conditioning workouts are good to go, as is coach-athlete contact for out-of-season sports.

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That’s especially significant for your fall sports like football, which are scheduled to begin in August.

“We’re just taking it all in phases,” said Cedar Rapids Jefferson Activities Director Chris Deam. “That’s what we’re going to do, take it slow. At some point, if we want stuff to go on in the fall, we have to make sure kids are physically ready for that. We’ve got to do it the right way and follow the right protocols, which are going to look a lot different. But we’ll take it in phases.”

Iowa is the lone ranger playing summer sports (baseball and softball), the first state to OK prep athletics since the coronavirus pandemic began in March. Six baseball teams and four softball teams have had mandatory 14-day suspensions of practice and games because a player or coach tested positive for COVID-19, yet the season continues.

It was widely believed this baseball/softball “experiment” would go a long way in determining if fall sports (football, volleyball, cross country, girls’ swimming and Class 4A boys' golf) were feasible. How things go beginning Wednesday also will be telltale.

By the way, per guidelines from the Linn County Public Health Department, schools in the county will not begin offseason workouts until Monday. White said his Kennedy football team will get started bright and early at 6:30 a.m., with the coach taking everyone’s temperature before they begin and sanitizing all equipment pre- and post-workout.

White said Kennedy Activities Director Aaron Stecker has set specific school guidelines for all head coaches and has asked Varsity Bound, which runs Iowa’s online sports stats service, to create a program in which athletes have to answer questions about their health every single day before being allowed to practice or play.

“I think we’re doing the right things to mitigate what is inevitable, and what’s inevitable is this isn’t going away,” said White, who has two sons who will be athletes at Kennedy this fall. “So we’ve got to figure out a way to co-exist and minimize the potential for risk.”

Coach Justin Penner, who led Western Dubuque to the Class 3A state football championship last fall, stressed that COVID-19 isn’t going away when he was asked about resuming football activities. His thoughts were very sobering, as a matter of fact.

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Penner has been umpiring baseball games this summer and recently tweeted his concerns about few wearing masks and a general lack of social distancing at those games.

“To our public entities, we are to progress slowly with caution,” he said. “However, it is my perception that many in the general public have lost the desire to quarantine and have moved on since the weather got nice. We, as a public, did not have the stamina to outlast this pandemic.

“We may have consequences for our lack of patience and lack of resilience. Who is to say? However, with so few people quarantining, we must move forward with life and its consequences. With hope, football will be a part of that life.”

Comments: (319) 398-8259; jeff.johnson@thegazette.com

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