Students at many Corridor schools got two days off from class on Jan. 6 and Jan. 7 when a polar vortex resulted in wind chills so low that administrators canceled classes.
For student athletes and activities participants, however, bad weather didn’t mean two evenings of free time.
Teams from Iowa City, Iowa City West, Regina and Prairie high schools all competed in basketball games on Jan. 6 or Jan. 7 despite the fact that weather conditions were deemed extreme enough to warrant calling off school.
“One of the driving factors was (that) we were in town,” said Terry Coleman, who is in his first year as City High’s athletic director, of what he described as well-attended games on Jan. 6 and Jan. 7 against West High. “We didn’t have buses on the road that could potentially get stranded when it was 20 below zero. All of those things play into that. Would we have had a contest up in Dubuque, we likely would’ve had a different decision on that day.”
Administrators are well within their rights to go through with activities scheduled on days when classes aren’t in session due to unfavorable conditions.
“There’s no state guideline or rule on whether schools should hold extra-curricular activities on days when classes have been canceled because of inclement weather,” Staci Hupp, communications director for the Iowa Department of Education, wrote in an email to The Gazette. “This is a local decision.”
Administrators at Regina, City High and Prairie all said that a number of factors go into determining whether or not to hold contests on inclement weather cancellation days but all agreed that one takes precedence.
“I think the very first and foremost thing we keep in mind is the safety of our kids,” said Rocky Bennett, activities director at Prairie. The high school’s basketball teams competed against Linn-Mar High School on Jan. 7. “Is it safe for our kids to be driving on the roads? … If we decide that transportation is a go, then we like to have those events.”
Bennett also said that the fact that the games were in the metro area – Linn-Mar is located in Marion, while Prairie is in Cedar Rapids – also had an effect on the decision.
Bret Jones, who is in his first year as activities director for Regina, said whether a team is hosting or traveling to a contest also matters.
“A lot of schools say that the traveling team makes the decision,” said Jones, whose school’s basketball players traveled to Wellman on Jan. 7 for a game against Mid-Prairie High School. “Mid-Prairie told us, ‘The gym’s going to be open. If you can be there we’ll play.’ I said, ‘We’ll be there.’”
Because other inclement weather hallmarks, such as snow and ice, did not accompany the low wind chill readings on Jan. 7, the activities directors said the evening’s activities were able to go on as scheduled for the most part. A swim meet between Prairie and Waterloo’s West High School did not occur due to the outdoor conditions.
Bennett said that typically he discusses the situation with Prairie’s principal, opposing teams’ activities directors as well as the transportation director and superintendent of the College Community School District (of which Prairie is part), at noon on the day of a school cancellation.
“Conditions do change,” he said.
On Jan. 7, the activities directors agreed that temperatures had increased enough to allow play to go on that night.
Coleman, who also consults district-level administrators as well as competitors’ activities directors in determining whether or not to cancel events, said having the flexibility of not tying games to weather is important.
“It’s difficult when you have just a blanket policy and don’t have latitude for looking at specific situations. We will always do absolutely everything we can to make sure we are making the right decision,” he said. “If conditions do warrant that we can have a contest, that we can get there and back, it would make sense that we do go ahead and have the contest.”