Activities director Q&A: Abraham Lincoln's Jeff Novotny

Activities director Q&A: Abraham Lincoln's Jeff Novotny

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This week, The Nonpareil will speak to activities directors from the city as they prepare for the return of prep athletics with softball and baseball. Practice starts June 1, and games can be played beginning June 15. We start our series with Abraham Lincoln’s Jeff Novotny.

How busy has the last week been for you and your fellow ADs around the state?

It’s been really busy. You want to get ahead of it a little bit, and the information has come out not as fast as we all want. When the governor announced that, it caught us by surprise. The State Department of Education put out a two-page document for protocol at practices and games with things we have to do, but not very specific. Yesterday, the state put out a question-and-answer clearing up some questions, but we don’t have definite answers on what transportation is going to look like, which is a big one for us with our conference. Sioux City is a 90-mile trip. We need a lot of clarification on what bussing is going to look like and what is and isn’t allowed. The other one is if you have a COVID case on your team or with one of the families on your team, what are the necessary steps you need to take. What I read yesterday is that it’s a local decision. We’re going to have a district decision on all these things so that we have a unified front with A.L. and Thomas Jefferson. The biggest thing is gathering this information and putting it into some kind of document or presentation to parents so that they can make an informed decision on whether their son or daughter is going to play baseball or softball. That all has to be done by Monday because we’re practicing June 1. So, it’s been busy.

What were your initial reactions to the guidelines released yesterday?

There are some hard questions we need to get at. There’s some easy stuff out there. Keep kids six feet apart. Don’t share a water bottle. Those are easy things. … The hard things, in my opinion, still haven’t been addressed. How are we going to get to a game and make sure everybody is safe? Really, the question I think a lot of ADs are asking now – because it is going to happen – somewhere in this state, there is going to be a student who gets sick and tests positive. What happens then? What I read (Monday) is that it’s local control. The state is really not going to take a stance on that. Tim Hamilton, our head of student services, is helping with this. He’s reaching out to local health officials to get what protocol we should do, whether it’s a quarantine of a student-athlete, whether it’s a team quarantine, whatever it might look like. If that’s different in the city of Harlan, or if that’s different than Glenwood or Sioux City, some of the teams we play, it raises a lot of questions.

What’s the general feeling from the other ADs you’ve spoken with since last week with the return of summer sports?

We’ve met as conference ADs probably three times. We’re going with the guidelines we have, and they’re saying that we’re going to play baseball. A lot of our work has been trying to find a schedule for our kids that’s worth their time. This is going to be a short season. The kids are going to practice two weeks, have maybe three, three-and-a-half weeks to play games. We’re trying to find a schedule where they have a quality season. One change we’ve made is that we’re playing doubleheaders in softball. The reason behind that was that you’ve already taken the trip and bus ride there. Let’s get two games in so the kids can play and come home rather than two different dates with another bus trip. Plus it gives us a night where we don’t have to have a game and it eliminates a trip for us. We want a unified front. If Council Bluffs is doing something, we want to make sure Sioux City is doing something so our parents aren’t confused. In the end, we want kids and parents to feel safe. We want consistency with what we’re implementing in our conference.

What has the process of filling out your schedule been like? Is it still being filled?

(June 15) is the middle of the season. In our baseball and softball schedules, we used to play everybody at home and away. That was right when that cutoff happened. Really, we kept for the most part everything on the same days, conference wise. After that, there’s a lot more health issues than COVID issues, especially on the baseball side with pitching and making sure their arms are healthy with only two weeks of practice. We’re looking at the number of games we’re playing and not trying to overdo kids to a max where they’ll get hurt. Right now, the guideline we’ve been using is five games a week. Four of them are taken by conference with two on Tuesday and two on Thursday. We’ve been looking for one nonconference opponent at the varsity level.

Abraham Lincoln and Thomas Jefferson play in the Missouri River Conference. Is your understanding that every MRC school will play summer sports?

As of today, we’re all planning on playing. I will tell you there’s a statewide AD Zoom Thursday with the state associations, and I’m sure there’s going to be a lot of these questions asked, maybe even more that I haven’t thought of. Then the state is meeting with the baseball and softball coaches Friday. We’ll see what happens with those two Zooms. As of now, all eight schools in our conference are planning on playing.

Is streaming something that A.L. will do for baseball and softball for fans that would rather not attend in person?

We have not talked about streaming. We have not streamed baseball and softball before. I haven’t gone down that road yet. If we have practice started without any hitches, we have two weeks to kind of put some things in order for games. That’s definitely something we might consider, whether it’s a simple camera going live and putting it on Facebook or something so parents can watch. A lot of people want normalcy, which is good, I support that, but because we have normalcy, there’s a lot of people out there who have health conditions, and their restrictions have to stay in place even longer. Trying to get grandparents who don’t want to come to a game because they might be at risk, that would be definitely something I would consider, but I have not crossed that path though.

Guidelines have been put in place for fans attending. What would be your message to A.L. fans wanting to attend games this summer?

It’s going to be up to everybody. We’re going to have a meeting with our baseball and softball parents once we get our ducks in a row. My message not just to A.L. fans but all people is that there are a lot of these guidelines in place, and if you read that first paragraph on the state website, it says basically that they don’t want coaches in charge of this; they want an administrator in charge of this. That’s fine, that’s my job, and we’re going to do it, but there’s not going to be a gray area at Abraham Lincoln High School. I’m going to convey that to our parents. These are our rules. Whether you agree with them or not, these are the things we need to do to play, and everyone has to do their part. If the rule is to sit six feet apart from another family, that’s going to be the rule. If you don’t want to do it, my message is going to be that you need to think about if you really want to come to a game or not. If you want to come to a game, you need to follow these rules so that we can have baseball and softball. There’s not going to be a negotiation. It’s going to be: If you come, you’re going to do it. If you don’t want to do it, you probably should think about not coming. I know that’s pretty blunt, but I think we’re in those times. If they want baseball and softball, there’s going to be some hoops that they have to do.

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