An article in the Des Moines Register last summer focused on a topic that has been debated quite a bit recently: whether high school baseball and softball in Iowa should be played in the spring rather than the summer. That discussion has not reached many rural parts of the state, other than perhaps the coaches of those two sports, but it is a topic that has generated a lot of conversations in the cities and surrounding areas, as well as in the media. Before I go any further, it needs to be said that Rick Wulkow, Executive Director of the Iowa High School Athletic Association, has publically stated that moving baseball to the spring is not under consideration at all at this time as the most recent surveys of member schools are strongly opposed to that change.
From my perspective, it is an interesting debate as I am a huge fan of both sports, have kids that play, and yet am on the school side of the equation as well. When I read this article and others, and listen to those who advocate moving to the spring, the only ones I have heard talk about it favorably are from metropolitan areas. That is not to say that there aren’t folks from small schools that support this, but it really does come down to a big school-small school debate. On the surface, there is no way that smaller schools could support softball and baseball in the spring and maintain the traditional spring sports, track and golf. Soccer and tennis are in place in some schools at the same time of the year. Adding baseball and softball would certainly deplete the pool of available athletes. At North Fayette Valley, it would create some very difficult decisions because there has been track and golf success, as well as strong baseball and softball teams. If students had to make a choice, what direction would they go? Regardless, something would be weakened. That would not necessarily be the case in big schools as there are more student-athletes and specialization already in place.
In Iowa the strongest negative for spring ball is the weather. Having two nephews that play in the spring in Nebraska, half of their twenty-some scheduled games were cancelled this year due to weather. Most coaches are opposed due to a narrower period to schedule games, which would result in a much shorter schedule. Those that are the strongest advocates point out that Iowa kids are at a definite disadvantage in terms of college opportunities and for baseball, the ability to play in front of professional scouts, because they have wrapped up their efforts by the time summer games get going. Unless Iowa players are on travel teams in the spring or fall, they do not get exposure in front of these coaches. And this is where the heart of the argument lies. Does it make sense to shift seasons so that a small percentage of student-athletes have better opportunities to catch the eye of coaches and earn college scholarships? Of course, parents of those kids would say yes, as well as coaches at schools that have the opportunity to work with kids that are more specialized in their sports.
There are positives for this move for schools like NFV, one of which is cost. Because we wouldn’t play as many games, our costs would drop almost in half. We wouldn’t have to employ coaches and some administration in the summer. Students would actually have more of their summer off, and those that really love baseball or softball could hook up with legion or club teams. But is that what people want? A few weeks ago my dad, a hardcore baseball and softball fan that has watched high school games for decades made the comment to me out of the blue that “Iowa should never get rid of summer ball.” He has five grandkids that play high school baseball in the spring, legion, high school baseball, high school softball, and ASA softball in the summer, and, high school and club softball in the fall, and he believes it would be the worst thing that could happen to the games in Iowa to move it away from the summer. Personally, I have mixed feelings, but my opinion right now is that perhaps it is the time to offer those kids that really want to play in college other opportunities to play, and if they choose to play for someone other than their high school team, that’s their prerogative. That way that majority of folks could keep doing what they want to do.