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No school? No spring sports. And no track

Solon’s Gabbi Bullard knifes over another hurdle during the 2019 Class 3A state meet shuttle hurdle relay. Bullard’s 2020 season and those of nearly 10,000 Iowa high school track girls ended prematurely with the shutdown of schools and spring sports seasons, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

SOLON– Everyone hoped for better.
In the face of the growing COVID-19 pandemic, Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds called on schools in mid-March to shut down on-site education. Spring sports– girls’ and boys’ track, soccer and golf¬– were suspended.
Still, a framework existed for a possible three-meet end of season finish had there been a return to the classroom
Day to day reports harshened the outlook, though. Cases were increasing. More people were dying, as the 2019 novel coronavirus spread through Iowa. On Friday, the die was cast. "I regret to say that Iowa schools will not reopen this school year," announced Reynolds.
Spring sports were cancelled, as well. There would be no season.
“Until then, I didn’t know what to expect. I was hoping it wouldn’t be. I had pushed it out of my mind, (wishing) we could go back. It would be fine,” recalled Solon senior Peyton Sands. “Once she said ‘no school, no spring sports’…it finally hit me. I was done.”
Nearly 22,000 Iowa high school boys and girls took part in track and field last year. This season, Solon’s girls came into this season bent on improving their third-place 2019 state meet finish. They had two indoor meets under their belts when the March suspension came.
“We understand the important role that athletics and activities play in the lives of our students, schools and communities,” Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union executive director Jean Berger said. “But during this time of uncertainty, we must support the health and safety recommendations of our state and national leaders. This decision is especially heartbreaking for our senior competitors, and we thank them for all they have done to represent their schools.”
Until then? There had been 45 Solon girls track members doing school work from home, and doing what they could to be ready for a return to track. Coaches had no direct contact with the team during the suspension. But “each Sunday, we were sending out workouts. We tried to Zoom twice a week. We hadn’t missed more than five people on any call,” reviewed Coach (and Peyton’s father) Brent Sands. “I think the kids really wanted it. We would check in; nominate one or two for recognition. Give a handful of people a chance to say something positive about them; recognizing them for what they’ve been doing… what people are thinking about them. So we continued that tradition.”
But it was hard to tell if they were making much progress. “Without contact; with the schedules of the kids; who knows when they are getting in their workouts,” conceded Sands. “When our first outdoor meet was cancelled, we had a ‘mock meet.’ They had one to three races. They wore their uniforms, sent video from home. Ashley Holubar was out at the farm; throwing a practice cone (instead of a discus),” he recalled. “Most of the kids did the workout on that particular day.”
No school, no contact does leave a lot up to each girl.
“I’m at the track every day, trying to improve my performance. Coach Sands sends us a workout. That helps a lot,” noted junior middle-distance runner Ashley Stinocher. “Definitely, it was a way to be as a team.
“Track is my love, I haven’t had much of a year with sports (injured in cross country and the threat of no track). I’ve been so ready,” declared Stinocher, two days before the hammer came down on the season. “If we had a season? It would have been amazing; the whole team (was) ready to get back on the track. If not? There is nothing we can do.”
I caught up with sophomore sprinter/long jumper MaKinley Levin minutes after we learned the season was done. She had been using the lifting bench in her family’s garage to keep up strength training. Iowa Speed workout challenges helped, too. “Different exercises. I’ve been taking (younger sister) Callie with me. It’s easier if someone is with you. With a sister, that’s a different level of competition. We make each other do it. I’ll go on a run. She says, ‘I’ll come, too,’” relayed Levin. “Core challenges, planks, wall sits, crunches. We are both improving.”
But is it hard to get motivated? “Definitely,” admitted Levin. “You don’t always have someone pushing you. This is something I love. I’ll continue to do it, to strive to do better. I always try to find that motivation and drive…. to push myself.”
And Stinocher’s take? “You rely on your teammates to push you, in a normal situation. Here, you constantly have to rely on yourself.”
How about their coach, and that loss of direct contact between teammates?
“It’s hard for the younger girls to understand how they will miss the upperclassmen,” stressed Sands. “Things like, ‘how you warm up for a meet, (little things) in practice. The longer we keep engaged in the program, the better prepared we are. With all that talent, if you want that spot, you have to work for it. It’s so competitive. With everyone getting better, (being all together) is a great feeling.”
And to a senior, who has seen six years in track at Solon end so abruptly, this year? “Definitely not fun; being cut short. But I can’t do anything about that, except think of more positives,” said Peyton Sands.
“Track has always been something special with me, with my dad, with my sister Alex, my freshman year. I have always loved it; loved the team,” recalled Peyton. “Next year, there’s college and a new chapter for me.”
What about summer sports?
Summer sports (boys’ baseball, girls’ 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 as to when it is safe to resume school activities and gatherings.
For more about summer sports, or information about schools, recovery and the COVID-19 threat; contact Iowa’s two athletic union websites; https://ighsau.org/ https://www.iahsaa.org/covid-19/