From the Press Box: Let them play!

Opinion and Insight

Des Moines Roosevelt senior Tabitha Keith speaks Monday at a rally in support of allowing Des Moines Public Schools to continue participating in fall sports and activities. Photo courtesy KCCI.

Among other things, 2020 will likely be remembered as a season of marches and protests.

On Monday a large group of high school athletes — seniors, mostly — from the Des Moines Public Schools gathered at Roosevelt High. They were joined by athletes — again, mostly seniors — from Ames, as well as by many coaches, parents and supporters.

The crowd rallied, then marched peacefully two miles to Terrace Hill, official state home of Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds. There they chanted, “Let us play!” among other challenges.

The Des Moines students and those from Iowa City High, Iowa City West and Iowa City Liberty attend school in districts which, beginning Sept. 8, moved to online-only instruction. Ames will do so for a two-week span, the others for the entire fall semester.

The upshot is that the Iowa High School Athletic Association and Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union previously announced they would follow Iowa Department of Education guidelines, which, in part, mandate that students attending schools enforcing online-only instruction may not compete in sports or other extra curricular activities.

Polk County District Court Judge Jeffrey Farrell denied a waiver Tuesday for a temporary injunction as part of a lawsuit filed by Des Moines Public Schools. The waiver sought permission to continue to hold online-only classes. Farrell ruled school districts, being a creation of the state legislature, are subject to state law above local control.

The lawsuit will continue, with the DMPS school board meets Wednesday evening to discuss their next legal steps.

Where this leaves prep athletics remains unclear.

The students were unified in demanding the right to participate and compete, especially, as many noted, because it is their senior year. Others would be trying to earn collegiate scholarships, some said. All rejected the idea of being played as a political pawn between several school districts, Reynolds and the state Department of Education.

I agree entirely with the students: Let them play!

The COVID-19 restrictions and guidelines used for an abbreviated baseball and softball season worked almost perfectly, with 97% of schools dodging any virus-related stoppages.

While it is true those sports were played with athletes who were not mingling daily in the classroom with the general student body, it did show that, properly followed, the guidelines in place can be made to work, and that the games can go on.

They should.

And, in my opinion, it should not matter whether a district is instructing entirely online, partially online, temporarily online or otherwise. If instruction is being held, why can’t football? Or volleyball? Or the fall musical? Or mock trial?

Roosevelt, Lincoln, East, North and Hoover high schools, when combined with the three Iowa City schools — and, for at least two weeks, it appears, Ames — not taking part in sports is a huge strain on scheduling. The group makes up 8-of-40 4A football teams, 8-of-40 5A volleyball teams, 8-of-48 girls swim teams (all one class), 9-of-48 cross country teams and 9-of-54 boys golf 4A teams, which play a fall season.

Not only does not playing directly impact the athletes on those teams, it also denies chances to compete against them from a huge number of athletes at other schools.

The opportunity to participate in extracurricular activities is an integral part of the public education we offer to children. If such activities can be safely held — and, so far, it looks as if they can — then by all means let us do so.

Des Moines Public School students were the largest group of a crowd of over 500 who marched to Terrace Hill Monday in support of continuing fall sports and activities. Photo courtesy KCCI.


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