Case in Point

Time is now to mandate face coverings at all school athletic events


As I write this (Aug. 31), we’re four days into the new school year at both Durant and Wilton, and around the state and most schools are back in classrooms by now.

We also have one “Friday night lights” in the books, as football began around the state last Friday, Aug. 28, kicking off fall sports for the 2020-2021 school year.

Before we get into any “Xs and Os,” let me say openly that I made a mistake Friday night. A mistake I won’t be making again.

Several years ago, when I began covering both Wilton and Durant sports simultaneously, I made a vow, with football games, to attend whomever was playing at home on a given week. For week one, it was Durant at home, while Wilton was on the road.

Don’t ask what happens when they are both at home or both on the road. If both are home, I try to spend a half at each. If they are on the road, several things come into my decision making.

Durant was home. Neither Durant nor Wilton is requiring face coverings at football games, better yet, let’s call it outdoor sports.

My mistake was I did not wear a mask to the game. To give my rationale, let me say that I’m in a unique position in that I can be on the field. I’m never around “the crowd.” If I’m around any players, coaches or officials, I can keep my distance and if I’m in any kind of close quarters, it’s only for brief moments.

My only real contact is with post-game interviews. I have long arms, and make sure to keep a distance and keep interviews brief — under five minutes.

While walking the sidelines Friday night, doing interviews afterward, something just didn’t feel right. The exclamation point for me was when I was leaving the game, and started hearing comments about people I may have been talking to, who have family members who have tested positive for COVID-19, etc.

Let’s pause there for a second.

Wilton was on the road in Highland — a school that is requiring face coverings at football games. I wasn’t there. From what I’ve heard, most followed the rules, although there may have been some who refused, or took them off shortly after getting into the game.

I’m going to sound like the schools here, but without naming names, I think it’s fair to say that just four days into a new school year, it feels like the walls are starting to close in around us with regard to this virus.

If I’ve heard about one Wilton person this week who either has it, or may have it, I’ve heard about several. I’m losing count in fact.

Turn on a TV or open a newspaper and you’ll see that the great state of Iowa is leading the nation when it comes to being a COVID-19 hot spot. Our governor is back to closing down bars in key areas and has now strongly recommended mask use in public.

That’s a step, but it’s not a mandate.

Let’s go back to the moment I was finally leaving the Durant football stadium. I told myself then and there that would be the last athletic event I attend, while covering these high schools, without wearing a mask.

When you see me walking the sidelines at Wilton’s home-opening football game Friday night, I’ll be masked up. And again, for clarity, I have a better opportunity to social distance than almost anyone in the stadium due to my ability to be on the field.

Not good enough. If I didn’t have this job, I wouldn’t be attending games right now. Sorry to our schools and athletes, some of which I even share the same name.

I urge our schools — Wilton and Durant — to take the next step. The time is now to mandate face coverings at football games too. While we’re at it, let’s throw in cross country meets as well (although I know we don't host any meets). I understand the River Valley Conference held meetings and took votes on where we are now. I don’t have to be the one to tell our administrators that these are unprecedented times. Things can change, and they can change daily. I don’t like what I’m hearing around these towns. Until we have true leadership from the federal level on down, this virus is coming for us — for every one of us.

To the administration and school boards in both communities, please consider extending the mask mandates to football games. If you need something or someone to blame, here I am, officially raising my hand.

Is it a hard decision? You bet. Big decisions are always difficult. Will it be hard to enforce, maybe — but not if it’s a rule and everyone is doing it. This Friday night, people will see me at the football game in a mask, and I’ll probably stick out. But if everyone was in masks, then those breaking the rules would stick out.

And what about when someone refuses to wear one? Send them home. Just like I know the school would do if someone refuses to wear a mask at a volleyball game. It’s simple, warn them once, then tell them to leave. If they refuse, call the police to escort them out.

This isn’t about me. It isn’t about you. It’s about the greater good. It’s about protecting ourselves in situations where we don’t have control. Public events are the definition of those places.

Biggest point of all, it’s about continuing to educate our kids in school, you know, the mantra the governor keeps saying over and over. I agree with her. But it doesn’t continue unless we’re making sound decisions and being preventative. That's the dirty little secret.

Don’t do it for you. Do it for Wilton quarterback, and my cousin, Caleb Sawvell, who finally got a chance to start a varsity game at quarterback as a senior, and won on the road!

Do it for Nolan DeLong, who toyed with a defense in ways I’ve never seen in my career Friday night in Durant. It was like watching Tecmo Bowl in real life!

Read their stories on pages 16-17 of this week’s issue.

Do it for your children. Do it for your parents, your grandparents. I’m starting now. When I’m in situations where I can’t control my distancing, I’m going to opt for the mask.

It will be tough. I may slip up, but my vow is to try harder. I’ll be cursing it the whole time too, but at least no one will see because it will be behind the mask.

I want to leave you with a quote from Wilton 7-12 Principal Marc Snavely, made during the school board meeting I covered last week at the conclusion of the first day of school. He met with all classes that day, and said the following: “I told the students I hate wearing the mask. I haven’t met anyone yet who likes it. But we’re all in this together. And the goal is to continue in-person school.”

I echo Marc’s words. I hate every second of wearing these masks. But I would hate watching in-person school and athletics crumble down around our bare faces more.

Editor's note for West Liberty readers: This was written by Index GM Derek Sawvell for publication in the Wilton-Durant Advocate News. The West Liberty School District recently announced that it is mandating face coverings at this week's football game vs. West Branch.