High school sports are a way of life in rural Iowa communities. In a time of COVID-19, athletic activities are becoming more difficult to host and maintain. Today, some events can be viewed online.

When the pandemic came, track, tennis and golf were cancelled. Summer brought baseball and softball with extensive provisions for distancing and sanitary procedures. In July, Iowa – the only state with summer high school sports – held the nation’s first state tournaments since the pandemic wiped out athletics in March.

This fall, South Hamilton and other schools returned to the football field, the volleyball court and the cross country course.

Now that basketball season has begun, there are limits on fans, masks and social distancing. There’s no dance team; no cheering, jeering student sections.

“It really takes away from the environment of student extracurricular activities,” said activities director Todd Coy, who’s served in that position for 25 years. 

Activities director Todd Coy, who has been at South Hamilton school district for more than 25 years, said wrestlers are required to wear masks at practice. It is one of the changes during the 2020-21 school year for athletics. Photo by John Naughton

Even one of Iowa’s most popular sports – wrestling – changed. The South Hamilton wrestling room added 10 new mats for social distancing and the athletes practice in masks. The varsity season began Dec. 5.

Friday night lights even dimmed. Iowa high schools started the football season with a limit of two fans per player. Iowa’s governor recently relaxed that rule to include all household family members, but some schools opted to adhere to the two fan threshold.

“My kids will play in an empty gym, if they have to,” said Matt Juber, the school’s boys’ basketball coach.

John Naughton is a longtime Iowa journalist, covering high school sports for the Des Moines Register for several decades before launching a freelance career.

South Hamilton boys’ basketball coach Matt Juber goes over team rules Nov. 16, 2020, before the opening day of practice. Photo by John Naughton

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