The suddenness hit like a rogue tidal wave. Now a very familiar term to everyone, the COVID-19 pandemic has greatly impacted everyday life, and it seemed to happen in an instant.
The timing of the pandemic response and subsequent cancelling of school was extra strange for Iowa School for the Deaf. Students live on campus during the week and go home on the weekends, which is when the decision to call off school happened. For Iowa School for the Deaf athletic director Nyle Smith, it was like something out of a movie.
“Our kids practiced on a Thursday, and they always go home on Friday. So, they went home Friday, March 13, and then didn’t come back and haven’t been back. That was really quite weird. The kids went home like a normal weekend and then boom, they were done,” Smith said. “Going through the locker room kind of reminded me of one of those science fiction movies where all the sudden, all of the people disappear, but everything is still in place. Their practice clothes and everything were just laying around like they normally would be waiting for them to come back, but they didn’t.”
Online learning has been an adventure for teachers and students throughout the world. However, Smith says the adjustment for students at ISD hasn’t been as difficult because of their experience and familiarity with the technology.
“With our kids being deaf, they’re kind of used to video phones, so doing a Zoom (meeting) isn’t completely a new concept to them. They’re used to using video phones and FaceTime to communicate with each other,” he said. “The lack of being around each other and the social implications of that are probably the hardest to get a grasp on for everybody.”
The social aspect is so important to the seniors at ISD that they decided to forgo a virtual graduation ceremony, and instead elected to do one in-person in the fall. For Smith, the fall is now his main focus, but losing out on this particular spring is disappointing. This was ISD’s year in an eight-school rotation to host the Great Plains Schools for the Deaf conference track meet.
“That only comes around once every seven years. This year we had 13 boys and seven girls out for track, which is really good for us. They were excited about the fact that (the GPSD meet) was going to be here. They were hopeful they’d be able to win a championship at home,” Smith said. “We were also going to go — for the first time in recent memory — to an indoor meet at Doane University, which we haven’t done since I can remember. They were excited about that, but that also went by the wayside.”
While hopeful for fall sports, ISD’s situation is more complicated given their schedule. The GPSD consists of eight schools in Arkansas, Missouri, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Kansas, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa. The necessary travel is another thing that would need to be sorted out, especially in football. ISD plays six-man football and only plays other deaf schools, while volleyball plays a mixed schedule.
“We have to travel out of state or someone has to travel here. I’m a little concerned that even if we are able to open up and play sports in some form that we may not be able to do out-of-state road trips, or the other teams might not be able to road trip here. If that’s the case, that kind of sinks football,” Smith said. “In volleyball, we’ll still be able to play our local schedule, but we wouldn’t be able to play any of the deaf schools. The deaf games are the big ones.”
Smith and his fellow athletic directors have remained in contact, but like everyone else are waiting for something definitive.
“I was just in a Zoom meeting on Monday with the other GPSD A.D.s. We’ve been touching base every couple of weeks. It’s just a whole lot of wait-and-see,” Smith said. “We’ll all be ready to go if we can, but we’ve just got to wait and see if we get the green light.”