Martin: How Iowa high school sports are shaping the future for Iowa colleges

Brock Purdy runs the ball during the Iowa State vs. Oklahoma State football game Oct. 26. The Cyclones lost 34-27.

Zach Martin

When was the last time sports in Iowa took center stage? Maybe the 2015 Iowa Hawkeyes going undefeated only to lose the Big 10 Championship to Michigan State and then get pummeled by Stanford in the Rose Bowl?

Truly, that didn’t break national headlines. It just allowed mockery from Colin Cowherd and other analysts that waited for the fall of Iowa.

So, think about it. We are living in a world that is in the middle of two global pandemics: coronavirus and racial inequality. And for the first time ever, we don’t have sports as a getaway from the real world.

Sure, professional sports are starting to slowly make a comeback, but in reference to the state of Iowa, we had nothing.

Until Monday.

As the only state in the country that offers high school baseball and softball in the summer, bats were popping, cheers were loud and balls were flying as opening day occurred throughout the mid-to-late afternoon in cities big and small.

I was covering a conference doubleheader in Bettendorf, Iowa. It was the first time I had covered live sports since the Big 12 Wrestling Championships in early March.

It felt like a small return to normalcy for fellow high school sports writers. We didn’t think this was going to be possible until a few weeks ago. To say a lot of us were happy on the inside would be an understatement.

Still, there were some things that are the new normal.

I wasn’t allowed in the press box at Bettendorf High School. We don’t know the policies of other schools and if members of the media are allowed in press boxes in the future. At Bettendorf, it’s off-limits.

The umpires do not have spare softballs and baseballs in their pockets, which lead to each team designating one player in the dugout to retrieve foul balls and the home team to provide new sanitized balls to the pitcher.

No postgame handshakes and in the case of softball, no dog piles after each home run. Social distancing in the dugout and in the stands.

Although, the crowd at Bettendorf was not following social distancing guidelines nor were many wearing masks.

Even though it is not required, I was still stunned to not see many people wear a mask. I did wear mine during interviews, which had to be taken outside of the field of play, as well as during most of the doubleheader.

What does all this mean in the grand scheme of things? Be prepared for how the three state universities and smaller colleges might be running things.

We have seen photos of Iowa football’s press conferences and the chairs being six feet apart, along with all media members wearing face coverings. That same expectation will likely happen at Iowa State.

Football media days won’t be as crowded. There won’t be a ginormous scrum in front of players and coaches. Same goes for volleyball, basketball, soccer and wrestling.

Unlike high schools, the press box will be made available to media members I would guess, but no doubt the space will be made to socially distance and it wouldn’t stun me to see the requirement of masks.

I was able to talk to everyone I wanted to Monday while maintaining a social distance. That part was pleasant to me, meaning I would think the same would happen to college media. Again, the likelihood of media scrums appears to be an avoidance to stop the spread.

As I reflect on what happened over the last 24 hours, I think this is all going to work.

Are we going to see more positive cases? Yes. We can’t be surprised anymore when new cases arise. This virus spreads quickly and it affects everyone. 

Will it cancel a season? I personally don’t believe so. There have been a couple smaller conference teams already affected by players and coaches contracting COVID-19, which leads to the self-quarantining for 14 days and the possible postponement of games.

There’s too much money, especially in college football, to not start a season. It’s also not feasible to see a cancellation or postponement if cases rise at a rapid pace. It will happen. The country needs to be prepared for that.

What the high schools in Iowa are doing and how they approach making sure everything stays within government regulations and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, the factors to try to stop the spread is what 49 states will try and duplicate both at the high school and collegiate level.

We can play sports again and return to normalcy if it’s done the right way. Iowa, you’re in the spotlight. Don’t mess it up.