Prep Football

High school football joins coronavirus in the Iowa air

The first 3 2020 games were played in Iowa Friday - but now school starts

You can wear a mask and play drums, as these members of Anamosa High School's marching band did during halftime of the B
You can wear a mask and play drums, as these members of Anamosa High School’s marching band did during halftime of the Blue Raiders’ season-opening football game against West Delaware Friday night in Anamosa. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
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ANAMOSA — There was a malfunction of the game clock at Anamosa’s high school football stadium Friday night, prompting the public-address announcer to quip “The clock must have COVID.”

Too soon? Anyway, the season-opening game between West Delaware and Anamosa and one of the first three games this year in Iowa soon resumed and was played to a conclusion. Whether the prep football season will be remains to be seen.

Every other time the p.a. person mentioned COVID-19, it was to encourage the spectators to be responsible and social-distance. Which may have been more a wish than an instruction. Bleachers at most high school stadiums like Anamosa’s aren’t large enough to accommodate social distancing. And, high school kids are high school kids. Their idea of distancing is 6 inches apart, not 6 feet.

At Thursday’s high school football game in American Fork, Utah, the home team’s athletics director stopped the game and told the crowd it wouldn’t resume until everyone donned a mask and spread out, restrictions that had already been put in place.

In Iowa, masking up in public has been like wearing hats. People do, people don’t.

Anamosa encouraged its students to wear masks to the game, and quite a few did. The city’s adults in the crowd seemed less inclined to do so.

West Delaware’s fans thoroughly enjoyed their team’s 66-0 win here. They packed into the small visitors’ bleacher, and I mean packed. I counted just four of them wearing a mask, but I may have missed one.

Sitting on a folding chair at one end of the stadium was masked Maquoketa Valley athletics director and head football coach Trevor Arnold. He was here to see how a prep football game was run in the COVID-19 era. And he loves football. Like so many of us, he wants as much of it as possible this year.

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“We’ve told our kids if they expect a student section they’re expected to wear a mask,” Arnold said.

“You wear it, you get used to it.”

The alterations to the game experience here — the main concession stand was across the street from the stadium, coaches and game officials maintained 6 feet of distance from each other, mandatory two-minute timeouts were taken for roughly every four minutes of game time so players could sanitize, there were no pregame or postgame handshakes — were evident.

On top of the specter of the coronavirus, the effects of the Aug. 10 derecho also were present. Tall trees partially ring Anamosa’s stadium. They seemed to come through that storm all right for the most part. But there was a lot of cleanup here.

A goal post was bent back 3 or 4 feet because of the wicked wind. The concession stand on the visitors’ side had been blown upside down and took out part of a fence in the process.

“At our new baseball/softball complex, we lost one of our dugouts at the softball field,” said Anamosa assistant principal and activities director Bret Jones.

Jones, like so many school administrators and teachers in the state, is preparing to deal with students in schools for the first time since March. Last month, Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds mandated school districts offer at least 50 percent classroom instruction unless a waiver is granted. Most schools in Iowa open Monday or Tuesday.

“We’ve delayed it to the 31st because so many families were impacted without power,” Jones said. “A lot of our staff live in Marion or Cedar Rapids (where the derecho was at its most-destructive). We’ll have families take care of families and our staff will take care of themselves and get ready for school.”

Then it’s time to see what happens when students and teachers are together for hours at a time indoors.

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“We went through baseball and softball and everything went smoothly,” Jones said. “We’ve yet to have a case that’s been positive. If that happens, then it’s going to change for us, I’m sure, and become more real.”

Fifteen states, including Illinois and Michigan, aren’t playing prep football until January or the spring. In Utah, Bingham High’s Aug. 14 season-opener was canceled because three players tested positive for COVID-19. The team did play Friday.

“We’re just glad to be here,” said Bingham Coach Dave Peck after a 35-7 loss. “Every team should be saying that right now.”

Jones echoed that, adding “The kids playing, they need it. Our community needs it. Every community does.”

Most other prep football teams in the state are scheduled to start their seasons this week, a way to make things feel more like home again. If only the virus didn’t still feel so at home in Iowa.

Comments: (319) 368-8840; mike.hlas@thegazette.com

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