Prep Track and Field

Iowa high school track and field season is on hold, but training doesn't stop

Coach/athlete interaction prohibited, so creativity and technology are required

Cedar Rapids Kennedy senior Ella Popenhagen trains at South Troy Park in Robins on Wednesday.
Cedar Rapids Kennedy senior Ella Popenhagen trains at South Troy Park in Robins on Wednesday. “It would be horrible if we didn’t have a season at all,” said Popenhagen, who will run track and cross country at UNI. “I guess I’d just be training for next year.” (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

Bill Schwarz verbalized everybody’s fear.

“I’m disappointed, thinking that we might not have a season,” said Schwarz, boys’ track and field coach at Cedar Rapids Prairie. “I thought we were going to have a good team.

“But I’m getting a little more pessimistic every hour.”

The state’s governing bodies for high-school sports — the Iowa High School Athletic Association and the Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union — have suspended spring sports indefinitely. As of now, the earliest possible date for resumption is April 13, and that seems optimistic.

“The adult part of me tells me that the track season might be over and the school year might be over,” said Will Harte, Cedar Rapids Washington girls’ coach.

“As a coach, though, you want the kids active just in case we do have a season.”

And that’s how most area programs are proceeding.

Coach/athlete interaction is prohibited during this time. As a result, many coaches are providing workout plans via social media or other technology ... just in case.

Benton Community’s girls have instituted an app, called InstaTeam. Coach Marty Thomae enters workout plans, a week at a time.

“The kids that want to get better are doing what they need to do,” Thomae said. “I hear stuff, and I see the kids out in the community. I’m encouraged they are following through.”

It’s not too difficult for distance runners, many of whom train periodically on their own or in small group anyway.

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“We have trail access out of our neighborhood,” Cedar Rapids Kennedy senior Ella Popenhagen said. “I’m running 4 1/2 miles today (Wednesday). Then I’ll do some speedwork at the track tomorrow.”

And yet:

“I miss training with the girls,” she said.

Distance runners “don’t need extra equipment,” Schwarz said. “They report back with their mile splits.”

As for the sprinters, hurdlers, jumpers and throwers ... that’s trickier.

“To race fast, you have to train fast, and that’s a big concern,” Harte said. “You want them strength-training, but they can’t get in the weight room.”

The weight room is off limits at Williamsburg, too. The track is not.

“There are a few sets of blocks at the track. We have everything we need,” senior sprinter Kaden Wetjen said.

“The seniors are very focused on leading this team, whether we have a season or not. Even if we don’t get a chance, we’ve got to show that work ethic and pass it down to the younger guys.”

Williamsburg’s boys were Class 2A runners-up last year.

“Everybody’s pretty anxious,” said Coach Matt Matthes, who has a roster of 43. “Our boys and girls teams both are going to be able to compete for top spots at state.

“We definitely have to be creative. Block starts, that takes coaching. But you can have kids share video.”

Track accessibility is variable throughout the area.

As is the case at Williamsburg, it is open at Cedar Rapids Washington.

“You don’t want the kids having contact with each other. We just have to listen to the medical experts,” Harte said. “I’m not even comfortable with two kids working out together.”

At Benton, all facilities are closed.

“They have to work at a city park or a soccer field,” Thomae said.

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In the past two weeks, reality has set in. Coaches and athletes are coming to grips that the season will be, best-case scenario, shortened. Maybe delayed.

And very possibly, canceled completely.

“It would be horrible if we didn’t have a season at all,” said Popenhagen, who will run track and cross country at UNI. “I guess I’d just be training for next year.”

Thomae said, “You can’t do something for 40 years and just stop doing it. I’m really missing it.”

Comments: (319) 368-8857; jeff.linder@thegazette.com

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