CORONAVIRUS

Iowa high school football in 2020: Can it be done?

We'll all find out

West Delaware's Jared Voss (12) celebrates his touchdown with teammates during the second quarter of their high school f
West Delaware’s Jared Voss (12) celebrates his touchdown with teammates during the second quarter of their high school football game against the Anamosa Raiders in Anamosa, Iowa, on Friday, Aug. 21, 2020. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — He is 69 years old and taking the coronavirus as seriously as anyone.

West Central football coach Steve Milder weekly gets on the state’s Test Iowa website and answers questions that eventually lead to the site telling him he is either qualified to get a COVID-19 test or not qualified.

He has never been qualified ... until last week.

“I can’t totally understand (why) because nothing has changed in my life,” Milder said. “School is getting ready to start, and maybe they are looking at someone my age going into the school building. And football has started, too, so that maybe that would be the thing to do. I am going to go and be tested. Every time you get the sniffles, every time you get a little of your allergies kicking in, you wonder if you have COVID. That’s what they recommended, I can go and get a passcode for drive through, and that’s what I’m going to do.

“Peace of mind.”

If for some reason, Milder’s test this week comes back positive, his team will most likely be shut down for at least two weeks. If anyone anywhere tests positive, it’s a two-week shutdown, depending on the advice of their county’s health department.

How many of these will there be? How many teams will be left standing after the scheduled seven-game regular season?

Will the season have a conclusion or wind up getting canceled? That Iowa seems to be spiking in the number of cases and test positivity rates is not a good sign.

Baseball and softball went off pretty darned well over the summer, but this is a contact sport and kids are going back to school, so how will that affect everything? Never has a prep football season had so many questions.

“I don’t think ever in my career have we gone to practices as kids and coaches not knowing for sure if we will be playing in two weeks. We’ve never had this kind of uncertainty,” said Milder, in his 49th season of coaching. “The kids are fired up. I think this is the most enthusiastic start to a season that I’ve had in a long time. Where the kids are excited to get going again. They’ve been waiting to do something. That’s been good.”

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“We hope for the best, plan for the worst,” said Clayton Ridge junior quarterback Oakley Harbaugh. “But there’s no place I’d rather be.”

That’s the exact thought of everyone. They are being gifted a chance at a season and are determined to make the most of it.

Even though there’s a pandemic.

“We’re really fortunate and blessed to be able to be playing this season,” said Cedar Rapids Xavier senior back Jack Lux. “So I know all of our guys are doing our part to keep our team as healthy as can be and controlling what we can control. We just hope and pray everyday that things stay smooth, and there aren’t any hiccups, because I know our guys really want to be out on the field competing this fall.”

The IHSAA released a list of safety guidelines for schools in late July that include things like encouraging social distancing in all settings and the wearing of masks, as well as mandatory game timeouts every four minutes to sanitize and hydrate.

At a recent Cedar Rapids Washington practice, virtually every player was wearing a mask under their helmet, as was every coach.

“We bought masks for everybody. When we’re practicing, we’re going to be using them. When we’re playing, we’re planning on using them,” said Washington Coach Maurice Blue. “We’re all learning. It’s a lot of telling the kids what they can and can’t do. They’ve been coached to give each other high fives and be together. Now it’s like ‘Hey, OK, we’ve got to socially distance, don’t give each other high fives.’ Stuff like that. They get it. At the end of the day, they just want to play. So they’re doing what they need to do. They have done everything we have asked and don’t fight on us anything, which is good.”

“I am confident because Mike Manderscheid, our AD, has really been supporting the notion that, hey, we really want to compete and complete this season, so we’re doing everything we can to make sure that happens,” said Marion Coach Tim Lovell. “That includes masking the coaches during practice, masking the managers. It comes with the kids really trying to be socially distant and limiting the number of people they hang around with. There’s only so much we can do with our coaching model, but ... it’s really amazing at how adapting the kids are.”

Three games were played Friday night around the state. There have been scrimmages between schools and three weeks of practice, all without any known shutdowns.

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That’s good, but we’re just at the beginning of this thing, and it’s day by day. Literally day by day.

“Our senior year, for a lot of these guys it’s our last season, so we want to go out there,” said Marion senior lineman Kaleb Swanger. “We’re taking precautions, obviously, issued by the state and Coach Lovell. I haven’t really run into anybody that has feared playing ... I think we feel pretty safe. The protocols don’t really affect us. We are just excited to get out there.”

“I personally am not concerned at all,” said Marion senior tight end-defensive end Garret Wagner. “I know at Marion, we’re taking every precaution, staying spread out, using hand sanitizer, so I’m not nervous at all. I know the other teams around the state want to play, too, so that’s what they’re going to do. Being on the baseball team, I saw firsthand. I’m very confident we can do it.”

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

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