Prep Football

Iowa high school football needs an overhaul

Guest column: Dan Sabers' proposal is just a band-aid

High school sports opportunities need an overhaul, but it may run deeper than that. (The Gazette)
High school sports opportunities need an overhaul, but it may run deeper than that. (The Gazette)

Dan Sabers’ proposals to realign football playoff parity is laudable.

Citing statistics that illustrate the gap between inner-city and suburban high schools, he makes a good case that something should be done for the good of the game and the aspirations of athletes in all the high school programs.

Sabers, the Iowa City High football coach, did his homework. He found that, “During the past 10 years, Des Moines public schools (East, North, Lincoln, Roosevelt and Hoover) have played seven suburban schools (West Des Moines Dowling, West Des Moines Valley, Ankeny, Ankeny Centennial, Johnston, Waukee and Urbandale) 92 times. The city schools are 0-92, with an average score of 51-10.” That information is so revealing and astonishing that it deserved repeating.

What is going on here? It reminds me of following Jefferson High School and going to a game at Kingston against Waterloo East a few years back (Jefferson was undefeated that year in the conference and was beaten by Cedar Falls in the first game of the playoffs). The Jefferson side was packed while across the field there were about a dozen people in the stands supporting about a dirty-thirty number out for football. It was shocking to see a once powerful program a mere shadow of its former self. Growing up in Cedar Falls in the 1960s, my football buddies and I would go watch East perform at what seemed a collegiate level in a packed stadium if they ever played on a night that we were free.

At halftime, I went to the other side and asked one of the few attendees what happened to their football program. Sadly, he said nobody goes out for football much like they used to. Most prospects go home and play video games.

How did this inner-city school devolve to a level not congruent with an enrollment equal to the suburban schools? Maybe it’s because of family support or open enrollment, which did East no favors. Some students with a football future transfer to the more affluent Waterloo West — better facilities, equipment and support.

As in schools in Des Moines listed above, Waterloo was once the home of several companies that supported middle class families — Rath Packing, Chamberlains, Wonder Bread, Young Coal, Zeidlers Concrete Pipe — are all gone or moved to the suburbs, as did John Deere. Erstwhile breadwinners became less stable and suffered the demeaning condition of no job. Its impact on families is obvious.

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Sad to say, but money and disparity of wealth are embedded in the causes of inequality of sports opportunities in our schools. Sabers’ point is well-taken about more affluent kids receiving head starts with skills via sports camps or special club training, which the suburban schools enjoy because the parents are supportive and can afford it.

It’s not a blatant pay to play, but more of an oblique influence of money on sports, which is not in keeping with the spirit of equal opportunity for the “student-athlete.”

So, the cynical adage about the golden rule keeps popping up in ways that give it credence — those who have the gold make the rules.

Yes, high school sports opportunities need an overhaul, but proposed changes by Sabers is a noble effort but only a band-aid on a society that needs major surgery.

Karl Knutson is a retired teacher from the Cedar Rapids public schools. He is the author of Perfect Ice by Nicholas Mizet (pen name) and owner of Vietviews.com.

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