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Spring sports season canceled

Marshalltown High School AD, coaches react to disheartening decision

CONTRIBUTED PHOTO - Marshalltown High School’s “Go Bobcats, Go!” fight song is scrawled on the large monument at the MHS Athletic Complex, where on Friday night the school turned on the lights in a show of support for the students and community in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

The idea of turning on stadium lights at high school sports venues across the state of Iowa was created as a gesture of support for students and communities in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

Marshalltown High School participated in the “Light Up Iowa” initiative on Friday night, but sadly it had a different feel than the week before.

As the lights at Leonard Cole Field and the MHS softball diamond sparked to life, it also signaled a somber end of the spring sports season after Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds announced earlier in the day the statewide closure of all schools in an ongoing attempt to combat the spread of COVID-19.

The cancellation of all four sports — golf, soccer, tennis, and track and field — was made by the Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union and the Iowa High School Athletic Association in cooperation with the Iowa Department of Education and other state officials.

The IGHSAU and IHSAA continued to adjust their anticipated spring and summer sports schedules with the passing of each preventative measure Gov. Reynolds announced for Iowa schools, and Marshalltown High School followed suit. After Friday’s press conference wiped out the remainder of the school year, so too went the spring sports season.

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“It was emotional, I’d say pretty surreal,” said MHS athletic director Ryan Isgrig. “We all thought that announcement was going to come, but for it to actually happen is pretty heartbreaking. As an athletic director you work through postponements or cancellations all the time, but I don’t think anybody could have planned for this. We’re all in uncharted territory.”

The end of spring sports before they ever truly began signaled the end of the season for seven Bobcat varsity extracurricular activities.

“The kids thought this was a possibility, so it wasn’t a huge shock to anybody, but we had tried to keep everybody’s hopes alive and keep them focused,” said MHS boys tennis coach James Christensen. “Unfortunately it ended up being fully canceled. From there my main focus was trying to support the seniors. … It makes me sick to my stomach.

“I was actually surprised with myself. I thought I was mentally ready watching the press conference but my heart still sunk, it got a little bit dusty in the room, and I guess I wasn’t quite as ready as I thought I was.”

Nobody was. A number of Bobcat head coaches took to Twitter to commend their seniors for careers worth celebrating instead of mourning a season lost to unprecedented circumstances.

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“I think we all anticipated this announcement but it doesn’t make it any easier to take,” tweeted MHS girls track coach Chad Pietig. “I miss my track team and I am heartbroken for our seniors who have given so much to our program.”

Bobcat girls soccer coach Stacy Galema listed all 18 seniors on her team, giving them her thanks for all they did for their program, their school and their community. Marilyn Gonzalez thanked her right back, tweeting “This makes me so sad but I had so much fun my 3 years of playing! I made wonderful friends on the team! Thank you MHS”

Bobcat girls golf coach Lucas Johnson had just two seniors to acknowledge, and did so with a picture of Taylor Naughton and Emma Younkin. “Fortunate to have worked with our seniors Taylor Naughton and Emma Younkin for the past three seasons,” he tweeted. “Tough news that we won’t be able to have a fourth year of golf memories. Thanks for all your efforts and know that you’ll always be a part of the Bobcat golf family!”

MHS boys track coach Doug Bacon, much like Isgrig and Christensen, said he anticipated the disheartening announcement from Gov. Reynolds in spite of hopes that this particular finish line wouldn’t get crossed.

“Obviously the immediate reaction was disappointment but certainly not surprise,” he said. “We knew this was going to be a possibility when this all started. We were keeping our fingers crossed we wouldn’t make it to this point, but here we are.”

Bacon said that the school tried to assemble a condensed track schedule when Gov. Reynolds made her second recommended school closure that prompted the IGHSAU and IHSAA to push the first date of spring practices back to May 1 instead of their regular April start dates. One week later, all that preparation was discarded when her latest decision was handed down.

“I would imagine from [the IGHSAU and IHSAA] perspective, it’s too crazy to throw spring sports into summer, and it’s even tentative as to what’s going to happen with summer sports,” Bacon said. “I’m really going to miss practice. The meets are fun and kids get measured, but practice is where the work gets done. I hit that mid-afternoon spot in the day and I feel like I should be somewhere else.

“I feel bad for the kids. We were off to a fairly decent start, we had a lot of personal-best times the first meet out, we had good numbers and things were looking pretty good. But it is what it is and you do what you’ve got to do.”

While spring sports were wiped off the calendar in conjunction with Gov. Reynolds’ announcement, summer sports were left up in the air. The IGHSAU and IHSAA issued a joint statement that said summer sports — baseball and softball — “are suspended pending an assessment made in collaboration with state officials before June. Practice, competition, and postseason dates will be announced when they become available.”

Both organizations will continue to follow guidelines from health and government officials in determining when it is safe to resume school activities and mass gatherings, according to the statement.

The start of baseball and softball practice had been pushed back to May 18 after the first wave of postponements, with games scheduled to start on June 1, but that agenda has no longer has any bearing on the future of the summer sports in Iowa.

“As of Thursday we were planning for a May 18 start, and since the announcement they moved it back to June and hopefully by then everything is OK to get back to the normal swing of things,” Isgrig said, “and we can get a baseball and softball season rolling. Everyone’s eager to get back to a normal lifestyle, so we’re going to start to prepare for those seasons and I guess we’ll see what happens.

“We’ve had a Zoom meeting with our coaches, and all our coaches have done a tremendous job of being resources for the kids. The main message in talking with the other coaches and passing it on to the kids, is that as heartbreaking as it is to lose a spring sports, the legacy you’re really going to leave is the last three years and the future, the relationships made and accomplishments along the way — things you’re going to talk about at the reunions years from now.

“Losing a spring sports season is obviously very tough and heartbreaking, but the saying is ‘Marshalltown strong’ and that’s what we’re trying to be.”

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