IOWA CITY — Friday nights were the absolute worst.
They could handle not being at practice every day. They were still able to communicate with their players, albeit through Zoom chats only.
But Friday nights? What was supposed to be game night?
Man, those were really, really tough on Garrett Hartwig, Dan Sabers and Jeff Gordon, the head football coaches at Iowa City West, Iowa City High and Iowa City Liberty, respectively.
“Personally it was a sick feeling,” Gordon said. “Because you felt like you should be somewhere else, and you weren’t there. The last three weeks were very hard.”
Liberty, City High and West had pauses put on their seasons after playing their first two games each. Because of high COVID-19 numbers in the city and Johnson County, the Iowa City Community School District made the start of the school year an online endeavor only, and that meant extra-curricular activities could not be conducted.
No football games, no official football practices. No in-person contact whatsoever between players and coaches.
“As a coach, it has been frustrating, and it has been disappointing for the players,” said Hartwig. “Mainly because we’ve all been living in the pandemic world since March. We started July 6 officially, getting back together. The players have done, the coaches have done, the school has done everything right.
“Then to lose the opportunity to play for these seniors these last three weeks when it wasn’t even anything with COVID was difficult. Just to wait and to watch, it was tough just to know what these boys were going through because they put in so much work, yet they had to stall and stop, and it wasn’t because of COVID. They did everything right, they didn’t deserve to miss any time. We’re glad to be back.”
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Oh, yeah, they’re back. The ICCSD is doing hybrid learning now, so the Trojans, Little Hawks and Lightning have resumed their seasons.
Their first practices were Saturday. Sixth-ranked West plays Thursday night at No. 10 Dubuque Senior, City High plays Friday night at Linn-Mar, the same night Liberty hosts Cedar Rapids Prairie.
“It was a lot of things,” Sabers said of the pause. “It was frustrating, obviously. Here I am sitting at home, and those guys are trying to do things on their own. You’re just thinking ‘Does this really make sense here?’ ... That was certainly a tough place to be in. But, on the other hand, there are always positives. I really think this helped the team come together and maybe take a little more ownership of who they are and what they want to become.”
“I know our guys were frustrated about it, but that’s the event that happened,” Gordon said. “I have been really, really happy with the boys’ response and resolve.”
Despite not being able to formally practice, players from the three schools could gather to do things on their own as a group. Coaches could guide them through those informal workouts, in a sense, via Zoom chats.
Sabers, Hartwig and Gordon said they were proud of their teams for how they handled the unique and frustrating situation. Everyone is more than ready to get back at it.
“We came back Saturday morning and had a good, long practice, and I didn’t think they were too rusty Felt pretty good about that,” Sabers said. “Considering everything, I thought the kids did a pretty good job, and I think we’re going to be able to go out and play a pretty good football game Friday night.”
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West is 2-0, City High and Liberty 1-1. The regular season ends next week, with everyone qualifying for the postseason.
“I don’t know what will happen Thursday, but, one, they’re excited to play, and, two, they have earned that opportunity,” Hartwig said. “I expect them to play at a pretty high level.”
“We’re pretty excited being back playing football,” Gordon said. “It’s just like we felt this summer, getting the opportunity to play. Trying to look at it as glass half full. If you had told us in June that we’d be able to play half our games and get a chance at the postseason, we’d have accepted it. I’m happy with the boys. They found a way to get into the gym and lift on their own, were able to practice by themselves over the break. It was nice that they took ownership. As much as it was a struggle for us, we try to look at the positives.”
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